The books neatly stacked on a table of an administrator’s office in the University of Utah’s Burbidge Athletics Academic Center illustrate the nature of the industry in this era.
“Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports” is about North Carolina’s academic fraud case. “Unwinding the Madness: What Went Wrong With College Sports and How to Fix It” examines an amateur system that is crumbling.
This is the climate athletic administrators are working in these days. More required reading was published this week, when the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York issued 100-plus pages in three legal complaints, summarizing a three-year FBI investigation.
Four assistant basketball coaches in Power 5 athletic programs, including Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland in the Pac-12, were arrested and charged with taking bribes to steer players to agents. Arizona suspended Richardson, who was said to have paid a recruit to commit to the school. Bland also is accused of funneling money to players’ families. The University of Louisville allegedly is involved to a degree that coach Rick Pitino will lose his job in a storied program that produced Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell.
Wow. If any of us ever doubted the degree of corruption in college sports, this is some convicting evidence.
In a 2015 speech at the Hinckley Institute of Politics, Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak said, “Did you know that there’s a lot of cheating in college basketball?”
He evoked mild laughter from the audience, but he wasn’t trying to be funny. Krystkowiak then told a story of being informed he would be charged $50,000 to receive a recruit’s academic transcript and “it’ll probably cost you $50,000 more to sign him.” The FBI’s findings make those numbers plausible.
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who has lost only once to Utah in the Utes’ Pac-12 era, is implicated in the court documents. So the Wildcats’ troubles could extend beyond Richardson’s arrest.
Anything that hurts Arizona, the Pac-12′s flagship basketball program, supposedly helps Utah and other conference rivals. If that’s true, this is a victory for the Utes — although their fans might be having too much fun rejoicing in Arizona’ s misery, judging by hashtags like
#wirecats, #ApayersProgram, #BearDownpayment and #Wildcash.
Those are clever responses, but this is a hollow triumph. It’s an indictment of “the game that so many people love and play the right way,” as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said.
Something like this inevitably was going to happen, right? And that’s the consolation stemming from this week’s news. Federal involvement, with undoubtedly more findings to come, was the only way the wrongdoing could be exposed and, theoretically, stopped.
My hope is that college coaches will be scared into playing by the rules. I understand the temptations in a sport where one player can change a program — and propel an assistant’s career.
Every staff member in Division I basketball is under huge pressure to deliver recruits, and I admire anyone who can do so honestly. The best outcome of this investigation is a leveling of the landscape, rewarding those who compete fairly.
ESPN.com pointed out how a Carnegie Report on American College Athletics suggested trouble was coming sometime soon. The report was published in 1929 — and here we are 88 years later.
Rusty LaRue, an ex-Jazz guard and former Wake Forest assistant coach, tweeted, “Hope the FBI can succeed where the @NCAA failed. Personally hope they can keep digging and clean some of this up.”
They’ll keep looking, and they’re bound to find more dirt. Federal investigators have leverage and power the NCAA lacks, with wiretapping and other methods available to them. The FBI “has the playbook,” said Joon H. Kim, an acting U.S. attorney in southern New York.
Clearly, the feds know how the game’s played now. So should we all, to a sobering degree.