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IT'S THE SHOES, IT MUST BE THE SHOES 

In college athletics, the kids live under the rules and the coaches and shoe companies rule

Maybe it's just a case of irony overload. But when Kareem Rush was suspended from the University of Missouri basketball team under vague allegations of NCAA-rules violations, anyone who was awake and alert should have seen this as yet another bizarre example of the charade known as college athletics. The rap against Rush is that while playing for an amateur team before going to Mizzou, he was given several pairs of basketball shoes and may have taken a few hundred bucks for traveling and expenses while playing.

Of course, this is all unofficial at this point, with Rush's older brother seemingly in hotter water because he is thought to have made contact with a sports agent. Just as weird is that the basketball coach involved in the infractions is a guy named Myron Piggie. In addition to being a coach, Piggie had been a "consultant" to Nike, the athletic-shoe megacompany.

In a parallel universe that apparently co-exists with no real connection, universities and coaches reap millions from shoe contracts, making commitments for their teams to wear certain shoes for bushels of cash money. Peter Fields, assistant athletic director for business for the University of Missouri-Columbia, won't comment on how much money is about to change hands so that Quin Snyder's boys can wear Nike shoes, but it's a bundle, trust us. "At the University of Missouri, we own the rights for the shoes," says Fields. "We haven't completely finished the contract, so I can't talk about that right yet. We haven't had a contract with Nike; we're in the process of working that out now. Stewart had the individual contract."

That's Norm Stewart, longtime Missouri coach who stepped down this year. You remember Norm -- he's the coach that got Mizzou to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. He also walked away with a buyout that included two payments of $75,000 each for the years 2001 and 2002. That was from the shoe contract he had, for his collegiate athletes, while he was coach. In 1995, the University of Illinois signed a $3.5 million contract for cash, uniforms and equipment for Illinois teams.

So Rush, a freshman from Kansas City who was the best player for his team during the St. Louis University game at the Trans World Dome, watched by 25,000, has been suspended for picking up some shoes and taking some expense money. Meanwhile, Stormin' Norman watches the game with an extra $75,000 in his portfolio this year, thanks to the shoes he told his players to wear. Gee, at least the Rams owners are up-front about their venality and share some of the spoils with the workers in the field. But then, maybe that's why they call what they give at college an education.

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