BIG MONEY AND POWER POLITICS AT THE NCAA; TALKING SCREWBALLS

March 30, 2010

Bob Ryan wrote in The Boston Globe about the possible successor to the late Miles Brand, to head up the NCAA.

“As a general rule, I regard the people who constitute the NCAA hierarchy as big boys and girls who can take care of themselves. But I fear they are about to make a colossal mistake that I would attribute to not doing their homework.
Former NCAA president Myles Brand lost a battle with pancreatic cancer last September. A search committee is at work to choose his successor, and while
I do not know for sure who should be that person, I have little hesitation in saying that I know who most definitely should not be that individual. That would be Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia since 1997 and, from all indications, a leading contender for the job.
To say that the Adams reign at Georgia has been controversial is to indulge in vast understatement. Now, the idea of a college president, especially one at a
large state university, butting heads with faculty, clashing with the athletics department, or having policy decisions challenged by everyone from politicians to alumni is not uncommon. Some of that almost inherently comes with the territory.
Complicating matters at Georgia is an arrangement where there is a Board of Regents responsible for the running of the entire network of state colleges, as
well as an entity known as the UGA Foundation, which oversees investment gifts and pledges, manages investments, and distributes endowment gifts and
scholarships, among many functions. Is there inherent office politics? Are there friendships and loyalties? You betcha. Are all the dynamics at the University of Georgia remotely understandable to outsiders such as you and me? Absolutely not.
But here’s something that is easy to comprehend. After being subjected to six years of what its members believed to be serious lapses of judgment and
competence, the UGA Foundation engaged prestigious Atlanta law firm King & Spalding to select an independent firm to conduct what is known in the trade as a forensic audit, not of the entire Adams operation, but of seven specific items it believed called into question Adams’s conduct.
The firm was Deloitte & Touche, whose fraud and forensics unit submitted a finding in October 2003 that was, at the least, eye-opening, and, at worst,
suggestive of a troubling pattern of arbitrary behavior on the part of President Adams that caused him to be labeled by many people in the school community an “Imperial CEO.’’ But the Board of Regents, greatly influenced by Michael Adams, denounced the report as “deeply flawed,’’ and directed its ire at Deloitte & Touche, rather than at Michael Adams.
Financial impropriety was front and center. Deloitte & Touche found that Mr. Adams had been quite cavalier with the use of both university and foundation funds. His abuses ranged from chartering an airplane to get himself and friends to and from one of George W. Bush’s inaugurations, and included, but were not limited to, various uses of foundation credit cards, and assorted examples of billing the university to fund his lavish lifestyle.
Under duress, Mr. Adams did make some belated restitution.
In sum, the Deloitte & Touche report was an astonishing indictment of an operation fundamentally out of control.
“If this report had pertained to a senior executive of a major corporation,’’ said Robert Miller, a former King & Spalding partner and a well-known critic of Michael Adams, “he would have been removed from power in 24 hours and would not have even been given an opportunity to reply.’’
James Ponsoldt is one of Georgia’s most distinguished lawyers and law professors. He is currently teaching a course in business law.
“I have a background in prosecution,’’ he said, “and there is enough in the audit to convene a grand jury.’’
So how is this man still in power?
Start with the idea that he is not really an academic. His doctorate from Ohio State is in political communication. Michael Adams is a spinmeister. He is a
clever and ruthless politician. He was once chief of staff to then-Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker. He knows how to amass allies — a power-seeking liquor magnate named Donald Leebern being the most prominent — and he knows how to wield power. He is not a leader. He is a schemer and an
intimidator.
Ask the faculty of the university’s largest college, the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. When polled in 2004, 70 percent of them gave Adams a vote of
“no confidence,’’ with 15 percent abstaining.
A typical comment: “Michael Adams shows a consistent pattern of failing to offer the kind of leadership example that is critical for this institution. Specifically, he readily compromises both ethical and moral standards . . . He readily blames others for his own misdeeds, and never admits personal error or responsibility.’’
Or this: “It is clear that Adams has put self-interest ahead of the university.’’
Or: “An additional concern is the widespread perception that Adams is vindictive and that faculty who displeases him will suffer the consequences of his displeasure.’’
He pushed out athletic director Vince Dooley, a much-beloved figure in Georgia, a year ahead of schedule and then sold a surprisingly compliant Atlanta Journal-Constitution the entirely misleading premise that it was a matter of Academics vs. Athletics, which was simply not the case. The idea that the newspaper of Ralph McGill would buy into such a phony act is truly sad.
What’s really scary is that the same search firm that delivered him to the University of Georgia is handling the NCAA matter as well. As one Georgia source said, “Don’t ever underestimate Michael Adams.’’
But if the NCAA people want to investigate Adams for themselves, all they need do is pick up a book written by the late Rich Whitt titled, “Behind the
Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia.’’ (NewSouth Books, Montgomery, Ala.) It’s all there, in exquisite detail.
“If one-tenth of what’s in that book is true,’’ said an industry insider who is trying to spread the anti-Adams gospel, “the man must be stopped. You read that book and you say, ‘You’re [bleeping] me.’ ’’
Both Miller and Ponsoldt are mystified that the NCAA would even consider Adams as a candidate for its most important job.
“The charges against him all come back to integrity,’’ said Miller.
C’mon, NCAA. Wake up. You can do better than Michael Adams.”

Bill Plaschke talked in The LA Times about a Dodger screwball, Ronald Belisario.

“He strutted through the Dodgers’ clubhouse early Sunday morning as if he were a hero returning from war.

Ronald Belisario wrapped Jeff Weaver in a giddy bear hug. He grabbed Rafael Furcal’s shoulders and shook them with a laugh. He tapped Russell Martin’s
arms and grabbed his hand and only then was the obvious question fearlessly posed.

“Where have you been?” a dumbstruck Martin said.

The only possible answer being, out to lunch.

Belisario’s body has finally shown up for spring training, yet the Dodgers still have no idea about the location of his head.

He was 34 days late from Venezuela, perhaps setting a baseball record for players with visa problems, arriving Saturday night at Camelback Ranch just as his teammates were packing for Los Angeles.

He was not only late, he was loopy, smiling and claiming he did not miss repeated meetings with the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, contradicting information given by Dodgers officials and even his own agent.

He even laughed at the “wanted” poster featuring his picture that had been plastered on a beam in the middle of the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

And, oh yeah, and he said he will be ready for opening day.

Said Belisario: “A week, I’m ready to go.”

Said Manager Joe Torre: “He thinks so? He also thought he was going to be here before now.”

It would be funny if it weren’t so frustrating. On a Dodgers team that seems as sleek, steady and focused as any in recent memory, Belisario is that weird
thump in the dashboard. In a clubhouse that is stoic about its business and serious about moving past consecutive National League Championship Series stumbles, Belisario is that awkward laugh in the corner.

“He has so much talent,” General Manager Ned Colletti said. “But some of the stuff he does, it certainly makes you wonder.”

This much is certain. One of the most important members of the Dodgers’ league-best bullpen is beginning spring training about a week before opening day. A hard-throwing right-hander who held right-handed hitters to a .157 average last year will almost certainly sit out at least two weeks of the regular season, if not more.

All because of an ailment for which there is no disabled list: brain cramps.

“I don’t know what to say anymore,” said Mariano Duncan, Dodgers first base coach and one of Belisario’s mentors. “I keep telling him, ‘This is not just your
job, this is your life, you can’t keep messing up.'”

The Dodgers could cut him, but they know that somebody else would sign him within hours. His two-seam fastball is tremendous. His composure is strong.
Teaming with George Sherrill, he’s an invaluable setup weapon for Jonathan Broxton, a central figure in their delicate bullpen dance.

“He’s easy to talk to, easy to like, he takes the ball and never has an excuse,” Torre said, shaking his head.

He also never seems to have a clue, which is particularly worrisome considering he is 27 years old and playing in his eighth professional season.

“This is not some kid, this is a grown man,” Duncan said. “At some point, he has to learn this stuff on his own.”

He was one of baseball’s biggest surprises last year after being plucked off a deep scrap heap to record a 2.04 earned-run average in his first major league
season. But, in addition to being fined for several team violations, he was also fined by the city of Pasadena, being charged with DUI and resolving the issue
by paying a $1,000 fine for reckless driving.

One might have thought he learned this stuff on his own. But meeting reporters Sunday, he appeared to have learned nothing.

He acknowledged that his visa was delayed because of U.S. concerns over the DUI incident. But instead of taking responsibility for not keeping appointments
to fix the problem, as confirmed by the Dodgers and his agent, he basically seemed to blame the U.S. government.”

“They [U.S. Embassy] made me do a lot of things and they held it,” he said of his visa, but then denied that he did not keep appointments.

“No, never,” he said, adding, “I never missed appointments. Maybe they think I missed it, but no.”

Upon hearing this claim, his agent Paul Kinzer sighed into the phone.

“It’s been so tough just getting him up there, I’m just glad he’s there,” Kinzer said. “Maybe it’s taken a while for everything to soak in.”

Belisario also said he has been working out, throwing twice a week off a mound, noting, “I took it easy, kept practicing.”

To this claim, Torre responded by shaking his head and saying, “Given everything that’s happened, we’re treating him like this is the first day of spring training.”

The future of the Dodgers bullpen depends on what happens now. With Belisario having been granted entrance to the United States, the Dodgers now hope he can acquire a visa to the real world.”

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