Renardo Sidney's Money Picture

Renardo Sidney is one of the best high school players in the country ... and yet recently USC and UCLA withdrew their scholarship offers to him.

Sidney's now on a path to attend Mississippi State. But even that school is promising a non-trivial peek into questions like how his family could finance the lifestyle to which they have been accustomed.

Various basketball insiders admit to having paid his family for this or that thing, as Lance Pugmire has detailed nicely in a Los Angeles Times article about Sidney's complex situation.

Here's the thing, though: The kinds of things reported to have happened in this case? There are stories somewhat like that about all kinds of top players. Many of them are, no doubt, speculation or rumor-mongering.

It's unusual, however, that they would be this public, this early in the process. I have not heard many stories at all like this one, where a top program gets so worried about these kinds of payments so as to withdraw an offer.

Makes me think the people around Renardo Sidney just must not be very good at this stuff. Because if my sources are to be believed, all kinds of elite athletes are getting away this kind of stuff.

This story does have one particular element that strikes me as particularly noteworthy -- it involves a non-profit. (I have talked about this before and believe it to be the latest trend in moving money in mysterious ways around basketball.) Pugmire writes:

Renardo Sr. and an El Monte car dealer named Richard Macias formed a nonprofit, tax-exempt educational organization called the Los Angeles/LA Dream Team Foundation.

Tax laws specify that charitable 501(c)(3) organizations such as the LA Dream Team "must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator's family. . . . No part of the net earnings . . . may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual."

Forming a nonprofit to fund a youth athletic team isn't a new strategy, according to Vaccaro, who said, "The money that comes in is supposed to fund and go to the betterment of the team, with that money obviously being focused on the team's superstar."

Federal law requires a nonprofit to allow public inspection of its application form and, if the organization has received more than $25,000 in donations in a given year, its federal Form 990. The Sidneys declined to respond to requests by The Times to inspect the LA Dream Team Foundation documents.

Here's the problem with non-profits: By and large, if money rules are broken in basketball circles, they have to do with the NCAA. You break some NCAA rules, and your amatuer status is at stake. Bad, but not the end of the world.

But non-profits ... their rules are managed by the federal government. In that sphere, there might be more rigorous investigation, and enforcement with more teeth, should anything be found to be suspect.

In the big picture, though, I can't help but wonder about all this. Here's a kid with a lot of skill and marketable attributes. Here are people who want to give him money to associate with him.

What, exactly, is the crisis here again?

To me there's nothing wrong with young people being professionals, in any field. What's wrong is a system that rewards not those who are smartest, most talented, or the best at pushing this or that product. Instead, the system rewards (with instant cash!) those among the best prospects who are most willing to flaunt the unrealistic and difficult-to-enforce rules.

(Thanks Kurt for the heads up.)