Tark Statue at Thomas and Mack

Tark Statue

Former UNLV Basketball Coach Jerry Tarkanian will be honored with a bronze statue at the Thomas and Mack Center.

Above is a photo of the statue with Tark chewing his trademark towel with an empty seat next to him for fans to sit and be photographed next to the legendary coach.

Often, when Tark was going through his battles with the NCAA and eventually his own university, I told him that history would be kind to him. Certainly it was little consolation for him during these tough times, but I knew eventually truth would come out and he would be seen as a pioneer in the sport. Today the NCAA has adopted many of the policies that he fought for and UNLV has named the court in the T & M after him.

History has been kind to Tark, but time has not been. At 82 years of age he is struggling to get around and no longer has the fire to battle past adversaries, which is a good thing—those battles are over. The NCAA settled out of court for $2.5 million and the media who previously blasted him have seen the light. The same papers that falsely blamed him for every conceivable evil in NCAA history, now sing his praises. Somehow they learned the truth through osmosis. Media has a way of doing that sometimes.

Bottom line—Tark has done what he has always done. Win.

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Jerry Tarkanian Belongs in The Hall

Jerry_TarkanianFew have changed the game of college basketball like Jerry Tarkanian.

Now, to some, those changes have not been positive and they think Tark should be locked up in NCAA prison somewhere beneath the O.J. Heisman. The NCAA and its compliant media have made careers off trying to destroy  the bald, towel chewing, Armenian who was at one time the NCAA’s winningest coach by percentage.

There is now a serious effort to get Tark “The Shark” into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Oh the sacrilege! What’s next, a Medal of Honor for Al Capone? Tebow for MVP?

Tarkanian is now 82 years old and he has always been a fighter. In most cases, when the NCAA goes after a program, the school cowers in fear, bends over like a Delta Pledge and takes its beating. Tark refused to do that—he fought the NCAA and has paid a heavy price.

His contributions on the court are well known. Basically, he built a dynasty in the Nevada desert that went to 3 Final Fours in 5 years. The 1990 team that won the National Championship is counted among the best teams ever. He taught hard-nose defense that fueled a break-neck runnin’ style that has never been seen before or since. Scoring 103 points against Duke in the 1990 Final is a record that still stands, along with the 30 point margin of victory. Being in Denver watching NCAA officials hand Tark their Championship Trophy was one of sports greatest moments.

Many coaches have tried to emulate those explosive Runnin’ Rebel teams of the 80′s and early 90′s, but none have come close. Oh, and by the way, the 1977 Final Four team averaged 107 points per game, and this was before the shot clock and the three-point shot.

But Tark’s greatest contributions came off the court. His battles with the NCAA forced them to use due process when investigating violations. Simple things, like taping interviews with athletes and coaches are due to Tark bringing attention to shoddy investigative tactics. Schools being investigated today can thank Tark for forcing the NCAA to be honest and transparent with their tactics.

But Tark’s image will forever be “The Shark.” The target was big on his back and it was bright Rebel Red. At one time the NCAA spent 4 and a half years investigating UNLV, with 4 of its 7 investigators assigned to Rebel basketball. I hope the Pepperdine Men’s Swim team and the Syracuse Lacrosse program were doing a good job policing  themselves during that time.

Tark never professed perfection. In fact, quite the opposite. He recruited many players from inner city schools and from Junior College programs. Most times these were athletes that college basketball’s elite programs would not touch. Tark has a track record of success with these players by turning their lives around. The Feds should find out how he did it and give him a grant.

Tark has made it past the first step for the Hall of Fame. He is on the ballot. A nine-person panel will decide if he goes to the next round. Their decision will be announced during NBA All-Star Weekend February 15th.

Like so many things with the media, perception is not reality. Tark was not perfect, but there are no virgins in big-time college athletics. For years the NCAA chased Tark and they came up virtually empty handed. Nearly non-stop investigations for two decades yielded two minor violations. A lot of work, for little results. In the mid-90′s Tark won a $2.5 million settlement from the NCAA after he sued them for harassment. Vindication.

Tark has the battle scars. He shows up at most UNLV basketball games these days with help from his ever present walker and his son Danny. Years ago, in the middle of one of his most intense battles, I told Tark that history would be kind to him and his story would be told honestly instead through the NCAA filter. Both HBO and ESPN have done reverent documentaries about Tark that I have helped them produce. Yes, history is much more kind to Tark than he had it during days as a coach. Putting Tark in the Basketball Hall of Fame is the right thing to do. He belongs there—sooner rather than later.

Follow Ron Futrell on Twitter @RonFutrell

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Pennsylvania Takes on The NCAA

NCAA Penn St

Perhaps the NCAA should add child molestation as a penalty to its rule book. Somewhere between; You Can’t Pay For An Athletes Meal, and You Can’t Give Him A Ride In Your Car, they may want to add; You Can’t Shower With His Little Brother.

Of course that rule is not there, and it’s actually not the NCAA’s job to regulate criminal behavior, but it appears they would like to make that part of their responsibility. Do they really think putting sanctions on Penn State will stop future molestation cases?

Pennsylvania (the state, not Penn St the school) is fighting the NCAA over sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case. The school was slapped with a 4 year Bowl ban, loss of football scholarships, $60 million in fines, and other penalties.

Now the Governor of Pennsylvania is stepping in and suing the NCAA for going after the Nittany Lions football program. Whether his legal arguments will work remains to be seen, but the NCAA going after Penn State football on this issue defies logic.

When the sanctions were first announced I was surprised that the university didn’t fight back then, but they accepted the penalty. At that time I was interviewed on a radio show about this issue and I asked the politically incorrect question that still needs to be asked today, “What business is it of the NCAA to jump into the Sandusky issue? Did he violate NCAA rules? Is there something in the NCAA rule book about child abuse?”

Please, nobody interpret this as defense of Sandusky. If you do that, you need no doctor to declare yourself brain dead. I will question the NCAA’s authority in this case. To sanction Penn State the NCAA used the catch-all argument of “lack of institutional control,” which basically means; they couldn’t catch you on anything in the rule book, but they still wanna throw it at you.

It serves no purpose for the NCAA to go after the Penn State football program on this, other than to show they have power and they will use it whenever and however they like. That’s what this is all about, wielding power because they have it. I imagine there was a group of NCAA execs at a table in Indianapolis saying stuff like, “something must be done!” So they did the only thing they know how to do, apply sanctions.

This is not the NCAA’s fight. Sandusky is behind bars, head coach Joe Paterno was fired and is now dead, his statue has been removed, the victims will suffer the horror of having to deal with this for a lifetime, and reputation of Penn State has been damaged beyond measure. Why create more victims out of the current players and coaches by sanctioning them? If Governor Tom Corbett has a case, that’s the case he should make.

The NCAA responded to Corbett by saying it was an “affront” to the victims for him to challenge their authority. Apparently the NCAA believes it is now their job to defend victims in criminal cases along with regulating Women’s Volleyball.

By the way, this is not the first time a state and the NCAA have tangled.

Tark

I’m pretty familiar with another state vs. NCAA battle. Covering the NCAA fight with Jerry Tarkanian over the years in Las Vegas could’ve qualified me for some sort of law degree, if not at least an elevated internship at a law firm. In 1988 Tark lost a case with the NCAA that went all the way to the US Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled that the NCAA was basically like a golf country club. If you join, you agree to play by their rules, no matter how ridiculous they want to make those rules.

The Tarkanian case stemmed from sanctions imposed on UNLV Basketball in 1977 where the NCAA told the state of Nevada that it must fire Tark as coach. Nevada responded by agreeing that the NCAA could impose sanctions (which they did) but it had no authority in who their coach should be and the 15 year battle was on, eventually ending in 1992 when Tark’s final UNLV team (26-2 record, ranked 7th in the nation) was not allowed to go to the NCAA Tournament as a replacement penalty for the ’77 sanctions. Ya—when the NCAA digs in, it digs in. Eventually Tarkanian filed a civil suit against the NCAA and in an unprecedented move, the NCAA gave in, settled out of court, and paid Tark $2.5 million.

In the Penn State case, because of the horrific nature of Jerry Sandusky’s actions, it’s easy for some to make the argument that you should just nuke Beaver Stadium and start all over again. Perhaps the NCAA should’ve given the Nittany Lions the Death Penalty if they really cared about the victims. How far should this go?

Perhaps in the next NCAA rules book, along with child molestation, they should make rape and murder sanction-able offenses. Add assault, battery, and why not build a jail out back of their offices in Indy so they can incarcerate?

The NCAA has enough work out there trying to keep players from taking an extra Big Mac during a recruiting trip to South West Tech State U, all the while counting the billions they make from Bowl Games, TV deals, and March Madness. It is a frightening prospect that the NCAA now believes it has a role to play in criminal matters that have already been prosecuted by the authorities. How far will this go?

Follow Ron Futrell on Twitter @RonFutrell

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