Last September, we started hearing the first noises about an FBI investigation into NCAA men’s basketball. The pretext was that there were assistant coaches being probed for accepting money to steer kids to major schools such as Louisville and Michigan State.
The coaches were also charged with accepting money from apparel companies if they could steer the same players, once they reached the pros, to these firms.
The FBI got involved, presumably, because these coaches’ offenses rose to the level of federal bribery and fraud.
The initial probe cost Louisville’s Rick Pitino his job, and now, as the second wave of information comes around about these probes, Arizona’s Sean Miller is among those caught in the web. Miller didn’t coach Saturday night’s game against Oregon (which the Wildcats lost) but freshman star Deandre Ayton, whose name has also surfaced, played.
Also involved in this probe are Michigan State and Duke, both of whose coaches (Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski respectively) have denied involvement.
While it’s heartening to see such a high-visibility entity such as the FBI being employed to ensure one and all that college sports are clean and legal going forward, one wonders why it had to get involved in the first place. Why can’t the NCAA take care of this? What is the problem?
Probes into how the NCAA’s major schools handle their business are nothing new, and neither is the sleaze that accompanies these programs. I can recall hearing the term “death penalty” in relation to NCAA schools whose infractions have resulted in draconian punishments dating back at least 30 years.
Can anyone recall how Rick Pitino came to get his first major coaching job (for the University of Kentucky)? It happened because Kentucky got the “death penalty” for recruiting violations, and Pitino was brought on board to give the school some credibility as it groped its way through a period when it couldn’t offer scholarships, play games on national television, or participate in postseason tournaments.
Kentucky is far from the only school having dealt with this. Chuck Fairbanks left Oklahoma two steps ahead of the posse as far back as 1973, as the Sooners were hit with major penalties for cheating. Ron Meyer got out of Dodge (better known as Dallas) before the Southern Methodist University recruiting scandal came to light. Come to think of it, the New England Patriots — even in the days before Bob Kraft — seemed to gravitate toward the grifters when it came to hiring coaches.
And how about John Calipari, who has twice led teams to the Final Four only to have their regional titles vacated? It happened once at UMass when it was discovered that Marcus Camby was given expensive pieces of jewelry by boosters there. As a result, the school’s crowning achievement in collegiate athletics — its 1995 East Regional title — was wiped out.
Calipari again was at the forefront of a scandal, this one involving Derrick Rose at Memphis. The Tigers — who included current Lynn English coach Antonio Anderson — were accused of paying someone to take Rose’s entrance exam. Once again, Calipari’s title was vacated. I keep waiting for someone to discover some transgression that’ll negate the title he won at Kentucky.
The bottom line is that this sleaze has been such a consistent part of the way the NCAA does business that anyone surprised now — especially the FBI — simply hasn’t been paying attention.
But here we are. The FBI has had to get involved in this, and the only reason why is because for all the lip service the NCAA gives to the issue, including current chairman Mark Emmert’s pious vow to “clean up the sport,” nothing has been done. The NCAA has been vowing to clean up the sport since forever, and each time someone gets penalized, that’s how many other schools seem to fly under the radar.
So I have a solution. Don’t fine the schools. Don’t give them the death penalty. Give Mark Emmert the death penalty. Strip him of all his power and prestige and appoint a presidential commission to run the organization and make sure that the kid struggling at Michigan State trying to get a chemistry degree isn’t unduly hamstrung by some freshman phenom who’s been piled down with gifts and enticements for the honor of being a Spartan (and you’re reading this from a bonafide fan of Sparty and of Izzo).
It’s got to be done. You can’t have the FBI sticking its nose into college basketball. For crying out loud, the FBI, judging from all reports, can’t even neutralize a potential mass murderer when presented with a credible tip that the kid is right under its nose. Maybe if we didn’t waste the agency’s time worrying about whether a basketball player was treated to dinner by a wealthy alumnus, or got a Rolex watch as part of a series of gifts to attend school; maybe if the NCAA decided to get serious about policing itself instead of just talking about it; the FBI could go back to solving crimes, or perhaps preventing them from happening, and giving us a little more confidence that it has the ability to keep us safe from harm.