The top end of college basketball is a murky mess — and the FBI investigation announced earlier this week, with charges of fraud and corruption against four NCAA assistant coaches, among others, for accepting tens of thousands of dollars for helping land players with shoe-and-apparel companies, agents, and financial advisers, is a fraction of all that’s been happening.
How widespread is it? How widespread isn’t it?
As months and years go by, it wouldn’t be shocking to see college hoops — corrupted as parts of it are, which is often the case in environments where everybody gets richly paid except for the dreaming grunts who enable the enterprise — if not crumble, as players look for other options to advance their games and promote their careers, at least suffer.
Think about it: If you were a great player, an NBA prospect, with no real intention of getting a college degree, why wouldn’t you consider going pro early, either overseas or in the NBA’s G-League, particularly if league officials do what they are rumored to be considering, namely, once again allow kids coming out of high school to enter the draft?
College basketball DOA? College basketball an uninspiring, no-talent endeavor?
That may be an overreaction, but it’s one that should scare the daylights out of people who make their living in college sports. The one-and-done phenomenon is the definition of hypocrisy, with those players pretending to be students while they solely prepare for entry into the NBA or signing with a team in a foreign league.
What’s going on now, at some elite programs, is a dirty joke. Highly recruited athletes, because they are amateurs, not getting salaries in any standardized, uniform, proper way by the schools themselves, are measuring the illicit bennies they can get at one program against what they can get at a competing school.
Thereby, some of those coaches operate in a gray world, shoved there, running against their morals and their own consciences, teaching their athletes integrity and diligence while knowing they have to break the rules, and, in some cases, the law in order to give themselves, their teams, an authentic chance to ascend to the top of the sport.
Not all programs do it, not all coaches. But from conversations with people who would know, it’s difficult for ambitious coaches who want to win at high-profile programs — and who are under heavy pressure to do so — not to feel, at times, as though they have to do it.
As Grandma used to say, it doesn’t make it right — two wrongs never do — but it does enable some teams to have a fighting chance to compete against other programs that, one way or another, are building mountains of talent.
Not all the NCAA rule-breaking is to the level of this government investigation, and some of it is on account of ridiculous rules that prohibit rather insignificant benefits. On one border, then, there are federal laws being violated. On the other, there are truly dumb and unnecessary NCAA edicts being ignored. Either way, indiscretions are occurring.
The federal probe, in documents which were obtained by ESPN, alleges that an unnamed apparel company — Adidas — funneled “six-figure payments” to three players for committing to play at schools affiliated with the company. James Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for Adidas, was named in the allegations.
One of the unnamed schools was Louisville, which placed its head coach, Rick Pitino, and its athletic director, Tom Jurich, on leave on Wednesday. Pitino’s lawyer said the coach was “effectively fired.” The family of five-star recruit, Brian Bowen, who committed to Louisville over the summer, was alleged to have received $100,000. Chuck Person, an assistant coach at Auburn, was charged with receiving $91,500 from agents and giving a portion of that money to players.
Federal officials said their investigation is ongoing, with one adding: “We have your playbook. … If you are involved in this, call us. It will be better for you to call us than for us to call you.”
That might be a threat. It might be a sign of desperation.
Hard to believe, but the NCAA seemed to be finding out about the federal investigation along with the rest of us. In a statement from NCAA president Mark Emmert, he said the charges were “deeply disturbing,” He said his organization has “no tolerance” for such alleged behavior. He also said something that sounded good in the hundred-acre wood, but, given whispers around college basketball for years, came across a bit tinny: “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, are an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust.”
Yeah, but winning is required, and if those coaches do win, legally or illegally, they get the renown and the reward. Pitino is making $8 million a year. Some of those who don’t participate … well, are being chased by defeat or looking for jobs.
College basketball now is at the point where baseball was a few years ago and where track and field and other sports are with performance-enhancing drugs. If a team gets top recruits, or finishes strong in the NCAA Tournament, if greatness is accomplished, everybody automatically is suspicious. Why did that guy sign there? How did that team get so good? Why is that coach winning so much? There’s reason for that suspicion. People don’t like to be taken for fools, unless, of course, it is their team that is winning.
College basketball may not be dead, but it is sick in corners of its highest levels. Lower levels probably not so much. Apologists who want to rationalize it or the indifferent who want to ignore it because some powerful institutions are getting great gain from it, will one day suffer the consequences.
At least they will if the FBI has its way.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.