AFTER FOLLOWING college basketball forever and covering it professionally for 2 decades, I have come to the following conclusion: Throw away the manual covering the sport.

Let there be chaos. Make it official - he who cheats best wins. Really, what is the point here?

This thought has been formulating for a while. After talking to several coaches and colleagues in the last few weeks while researching a story on new, tougher recruiting rules that ran in last Wednesday's Daily News, I became more certain of my stance.

It will never happen, but I think the superpowers should declare their intentions and just battle it out for the best players - grades, morals and ethics permanently to the sideline. It is now quasi-professional. Just make it professional.

Instead, we have this sham of a system where many talk a good game, but few play it. "They" say it is all about the "student-athlete." Actually, it is rarely about what I prefer to call the players.

It is about the people who control the money - the amoral coaches (nowhere near all, but more than a few and there are others who want to be on the up and up, but can't be if they want to stay employed), the administrators who benefit by the television money, the boosters who so desperately want to be associated with a winner that they will pay (players, runners, whoever) for the privilege and the agents and their reps who start selling when kids are in their preteens and never let up.

Nobody trusts anybody. Money overpowers risk. Greed and arrogance trump temptation. Way too many hands are out. Trying to police this mess would be a difficult task if the NCAA employed the FBI. And it does not employ the FBI.

There are some wonderful people in the sport, people who try to do the right thing regardless. They are fighting an almost impossible battle against the forces that are about the bottom line - wins, money and fame.

I do not think you can legislate morality. By trying to, the NCAA (which is, after all, all the schools that don't trust one another) has a system that is so convoluted nobody really understands it. The rulebook is a maze because all the new rules are written when somebody finds a way around the old rules.

At the upper levels of the sport, it has been a big business for quite a long time. Why not just treat it like a business? Everybody competes for the best talent. The schools with the most resources inevitably will get the most talent and, if that talent is used intelligently, those schools will win the most.

Trying to level the playing field has not worked. It won't work. The rich will get richer. No amount of legislating will change that because even rules with the best of intentions are almost impossible to enforce with a staff as overwhelmed and conflicted as the NCAA staff.

Why not just sanction all of it and get rid of the hypocrisy?

Brand will be missed

Whatever one thinks of my Don Quixote stance, there is no question the game lost a great friend with the death in September of NCAA president Myles Brand. More than anything, Brand was a great listener.

At the 2004 Final Four in San Antonio, Brand was the first president to sit at the head coaches' meeting. After listening to the usual coaches' complaints for 45 minutes, Brand said: "Can I ask you guys something? What do you want?"

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told me that story. Brand suggested the coaches form a committee and get back to him with suggestions for change. They did. He listened. Positive changes were made.

"Myles Brand really helped with this, God rest his soul," Brey said. "We lost a key guy in speaking for us . . . He really got into it and listened to the coaches."

Most forgotten story

Remember when the three-point arc went back a foot before last season. It seemed like a big deal. It wasn't. It had no discernible effect on the game, positive or negative.

Into the season quickly

Penn's terrific play-by-play voice, Brian Seltzer, had an opening-weekend itinerary that only a sports junkie could love. After doing the Penn-Penn State game in State College on Friday night, he took the bus back to the Palestra with the team, arriving well after midnight. He got a little bit of sleep and then took an early Saturday morning flight to Providence before driving to Boston to call the Penn-Harvard football game.

After the game, Seltzer flew to San Diego, where he covered Sunday's Eagles-Chargers game for ESPN-950. That night, he took a red eye home and called Penn's hoop game at Villanova on Monday night.

His run began and ended with Quakers color man Vince Curran by his side. That the "Vinman" didn't make the trip with Seltzer was the only shocking development.

This and that

* There were a few opening weekend scores that jumped off the page for me. Rider went to No. 19 Mississippi State and won, 88-74. No, Reynardo Sydney has not yet been cleared to play for the Bulldogs, but still ... Tommy Dempsey's team was 10-for-16 from the arc, committed just six turnovers and got one of the great wins in school history.

* Steve Donahue has really given his Cornell team a challenging schedule as it goes for its third consecutive Ivy title. The Big Red opened at Alabama and won, 71-67. Get a few more like that, win that Ivy title again and Cornell might get an NCAA seed that gives them a realistic shot at a first-round upset. Former VCU head coach and Florida assistant Anthony Grant was coaching his first game at Alabama. That probably was not what he envisioned.

* No. 1 Kansas has everybody back. And its best player might be freshman Xavier Henry. In the opener, he shot 8-for-12, 5-for-7 from the arc and scored 27 points. His NCAA clock is running.

* Speaking of NCAA clocks, Brandon Jennings' never started. Remember how much grief he took for doing the high school-to-Europe thing? How's that looking? He really did have 55 the other night for the Bucks against the Warriors. Now, it was the Warriors, which is like playing in an empty gym, but 55 is still 55.

* Atlantic 10 favorite Dayton has won 21 straight at home. Flyers junior Chris Wright missed a few games early in his career, but still has never lost at home. Dayton is 29-0 at UD Arena with Wright in the lineup.

* Is Villanova ever going to lose another Big 5 game? The Wildcats might be young off the bench, but they are really talented, really deep and only figure to get better in 2010. The fact that all the Wildcats' Big 5 games are before Christmas might make them vulnerable, but I don't see it at the moment.