Mizzou mess tarnishing Snyder's image

After poring over, swimming through, and reporting out every available detail in Missouri's Ricky Clemons saga, I have one final thought: If Quin Snyder survives investigations by both the NCAA and his own university, he'd better learn well from these past few months.

Snyder's honeymoon in Columbia is over. Many pro-Snyder boosters have turned. Many boosters who didn't like Snyder in the first place -- those who would lobby Norm Stewart for the U.S. Senate -- have become further disenchanted. There are reports that these investigations have caused friction between Snyder and his boss, athletic director Michael Alden.

It's almost an afterthought that this year's Missouri team, a sure preseason top 10 built exclusively by Snyder, is the Tigers' most talented team in more than a decade.

It's been an awful summer P.R.-wise for the Big 12, highlighted by Dave Bliss and Larry Eustachy. Snyder has boldly invited the NCAA and the university to investigate his program and, according to officials, has cooperated with both institutions. But the allegations made by Clemons ex-girlfriend, Jessica Bunge, are stark and sobering:

That she witnessed academic fraud. That she saw Clemons enter the Hearnes Center and leave with "hundreds (and) fifties." And she makes these claims on the record to reporters, under oath to her attorney, and for full disclosure by the NCAA.

Hurt and frustrated by both Missouri's athletic department and its front office after their failure to so much as apologize for aiding a man who choked her, Bunge is dropping her gloves.

That means it's her word against Snyder's. The NCAA doesn't drop major violations on he-said, she-said accounts. However, a coach's image falls either way.

Snyder is young, competitive, driven, gifted, and crafty. He also likes to play the odds. I talked to many people who know Snyder well or have coached against him, and there's a definite pattern to the words used to describe him. Some believe that Snyder relies so much on his intelligence (he was only one "B" from a straight-A high school student, and has three degrees from Duke) that he thinks, or wants, to beat the system.

One opposing assistant coach said, "He's obviously a high-level risk taker." And, this is not the best time in college sports to be a "high-level risk taker." Not after Bliss, Eustachy and Rick Neuheisel.

Snyder is on thin-ice. He has 17 "secondary" violations in four years at Missouri. When some of the violations have been made public, he's often pleaded ignorance. For instance, when it came out that he gave Clemons a pair of sneakers, a pair of flip-flops and pants -- although Bunge says it was much more -- he said, "Obviously, if I'd have known it was an infraction, I wouldn't have done it. I should have thought of it."

After starring as a player at Duke, then as a rising assistant, and now with Missouri, Snyder has 14 years experience in college basketball. He should be expected to know the rules, especially after these two investigations.

Ignorance is no longer an excuse for Quin Snyder.

He should also know the rules because no one is going to cut him any slack. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been on Snyder from his first days at Missouri, when it published a front-page story about what would later be a minor violation. The Post-Dispatch's aggressive reporting of Clemons (a Feb. 2, 2003 story had five reporters contributing) has sparked a competition with the Kansas City Star. Any call a Missouri basketball coach makes, any recruiting trip he takes, are open-records because the university is a state institution. Mix that with many anti-Snyder boosters who will drop scoops for reporters to check-up on, and Snyder will be open-recorded to death.

No one will give him a free ride.

Snyder is smart enough and talented enough to change his program's image. He has coached guard Rickey Paulding and center Arthur Johnson from afterthought recruits from Detroit into legit All-America candidates. In Missouri's second-round loss to Marquette, Paulding had 36 points and Johnson had 28 points and 18 rebounds.

What's more, in the midst of the Clemons saga, Snyder has kept recruiting, and recruited well. Four highly regarded seniors have given Snyder their oral commitments for the 2004-05 season, including Jason Horton, Kalen Grimes, Marshall Brown and Glen Dandridge. Some basketball recruiting rankings have all four among the top 100 players nationally.

Snyder is only 36. He has a career of coaching ahead of him. He's a national face; someone who was used as an analyst for TNT during the NBA Draft and for CBS after Missouri was eliminated from the NCAAs. He's got the ability to change an image gone wrong.

College basketball will be better off if he does.

But first he has to survive the investigations.

Seth Wickersham is a writer/reporter for ESPN The Magazine.