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September 29, 2009, 11:01 AM ET
Renardo Sidney deserves a better lawyer

by John Gasaway

I really should continue working on our latest college hoops book (announcement forthcoming), but the press release that landed in my In tray this morning is simply too good to let pass: Renardo Sidney has a lawyer, Donald Jackson, who is vowing to take his client’s case to…Congress? Yes.

You will recall that Sidney is a 6-11 McDonald’s All-American who has arrived at Mississippi State from Jackson, Mississippi, via Los Angeles. In February Sidney announced that he would play this season for USC, only to have the Trojans subsequently rescind their scholarship offer. Why on earth would a program say no to a 6-11 McDonald’s All-American?

In a lengthy investigative piece published in May, the LA Times detailed the circumstances that led not only USC but also UCLA to withdraw scholarship offers to Sidney. The Sidney family arrived in southern California in 2006 and by 2008 was reportedly living in a house that carried a market value of $1.2 million and rented for somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000 per month. When asked how the family met such obligations, attorney Jackson has stated that Renardo Sidney Sr. is employed by Reebok and his wife is his personal assistant. That’s sufficient explanation for the Sidneys, but it spooked USC, UCLA, and 341 other D-I programs away until Mississippi State made its overtures. When the LAT asked a friend of the family in April if MSU was ”the front-runner” for getting Sidney, the reply was that the Bulldogs were “the only runner.”

Once Sidney committed to Mississippi State, the NCAA asked the family for its financial records. When the powers that be in Indianapolis were not satisfied with the documents provided, they declared that Sidney was ”not certified” as an amateur. And here we are.

Jackson has loudly and repeatedly vowed to take legal action to get his client on the court for the Bulldogs this season. Call me naive, but I had rather assumed the legal action would consist of finding a sympathetic judge to issue an injunction, court order, or anything else that would create the needed five-month window to get this kid through his one-and-done year. After all, judges issue questionable orders all the time. Many of them are overturned later, but that process takes time–weeks and months during which Sidney could be dominating the SEC West. I thought Jackson was headed down this road.

Silly me. Jackson instead thinks the wise course here is to haul the NCAA before Congress on charges of “selectively harsh treatment against African American student athletes.” I have no doubt Jackson can round up some sympathetic ears on the Hill and hold some rollicking good press conferences. But let’s be frank: The chances of Jackson securing from Congress the needed ”legislative intervention” (Jackson’s words) on behalf of Renardo Sidney are exactly zero. Or should be. If our nation’s elected officials actually table discussion on Afghanistan, our health care system, reforms in financial regulation, and Iran’s nuclear capability to spend time pondering whether or not Renardo Sidney should be allowed to play college basketball, they will have one angry constituent on their hands, regardless of whether they mandate or prohibit Sidney’s presence on the floor.

Jackson’s press release, nominally about the injustice being visited on his client, helpfully includes the following information vital to Sidney’s cause:

Donald Maurice Jackson, a licensed attorney and the Principal of The Sports Group, advises organizations, student-athletes, [sic] coaches in NCAA enforcement matters and appeals. He has appeared before the NCAA infractions committee and various NCAA committees on behalf of member institutions, student-athletes, and coaches. In recent years, he has represented numerous high profile student athletes in NCAA investigative actions, including several McDonald’s and Parade All Americans. Jackson is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former collegiate pitcher. Jackson is the author of Fourth Down and Twenty Five Years to Go: The African American Athlete and the Justice System.

Sidney could use a lawyer that spends less time distributing his own CV and more time making the best argument in the most promising venue.           

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