Saturday, March 24, 2001

USC guard married for eligibility

        PHILADELPHIA — Jeff Trepagnier takes his wedding vows seriously, but he couldn't recite them without laughing. He couldn't declare his undying love for Malika Edmonson with a straight face or a solemn voice because the circumstances that compelled their marriage were so silly.

        Southern California's senior guard is probably the only college basketball player in history who has entered matrimony in order to restore his eligibility and justify his car loan. His is a marriage of NCAA convenience.

Jeff Trepagnier
(AP photo)
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        “We planned a big wedding,” Trepagnier said Friday afternoon. “We're still going to have a big wedding. But this helped me get back on the court.”

        Some guys will do anything for the woman they love. Others will do anything for the love of a game. USC has advanced to within one victory of the Final Four in large part because Trepagnier was willing to sacrifice his single life for the sake of his team.

Father of the bride

        He first came in conflict with the NCAA's policy against extra benefits for athletes when he accepted a trip to Las Vegas. Upon further review, investigators discovered that Edmonson's father had co-signed the loan on Trepagnier's new Cadillac. Because Edmonson's mother assists USC's track team (albeit as a volunteer), Trepagnier was suspended for the appearance that he was beholden to a representative of the university's athletic interests.

        Trepagnier already had Malika's name tattooed to his chest, but to prove to the NCAA that his intentions were honorable, he settled on the marriage solution. The shot-clock wedding took place Jan.3 in the all-night county courthouse in Las Vegas. The groom wore jeans. The next evening he was back in uniform for USC's conference game against Washington State.

        The NCAA will forgive almost anything if an athlete can prove that his benefactors are family, even if they are ex post facto family.

        “We always talked about (getting married) after graduation,” Trepagnier said. “Having it upon us all of a sudden freaked us out a little bit. We were together three and a half years. Her father wasn't interested in me because I played basketball. I think the NCAA could have been a little more lenient.”

Case caught NCAA's eye

        The NCAA is sometimes guilty of interpreting its rules too literally — and is often guilty of exploiting athletes for the sake of its own coffers — but Trepagnier's case was bound to trigger alarms.

        Here was this high-profile athlete, with no immediate source of income, leasing a luxury car with the aid of the family of a USC coach. Rather than risk more severe sanctions, colleges customarily will err on the side of suspicion, presuming the player guilty until proven innocent.

        “Sometimes we make the bed we have to lie in,” USC coach Henry Bibby said. “I blame a lot on Jeff Trepagnier for that situation.”

        “I agree,” Trepagnier said later, when asked about Bibby's remarks. “I let my team down. I let the school down. I let myself down. I was out 12 games, and it really hurt the team — hurt our chemistry.”

        He has atoned for his prolonged absence with a productive string of tournament performances: 17 points against Oklahoma State, 18 against Boston College, 14 against Kentucky. Now, Trepagnier needs to make things right with his bride.

        “She told me,” he said, “that I still have to propose to her.”

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