Will College Hoops Become the new SMU?
It's been five months since the FBI shocked the world of college basketball with a series of arrests and indictments involving alleged fraud & corruption. While there hasn't been much news about the FBI's investigation since the initial story broke, Pete Thamel recently reported the investigation is far from over and more dominoes will be falling, including more hall of fame coaches, players (student-athletes) and who knows who else?
The questions coming out of this report typically start with wondering who else is involved, which schools will be impacted and when will we find out? If there is a PR motive behind the timing of the release of new announcement or indictments, it could be coming next month. That's when March Madness and the NCAA tournament take center stage in the world of sports. If new information is released, it would likely dominate every mention of the tournament in media outlets.
If more news isn't released during the tournament, but schools are alerted to pending implications, it could provide involved coaches and players the opportunity to leave programs in a more quiet manner (although still likely subjected to speculation) before the news breaks. I would expect the people involved in Thamel's report probably already have a pretty good idea if they're on the FBI's naughty list, but that doesn't help fans or alumni of various programs, who have no idea if their favorite program is clean or not.
Ultimately, anyone who suggests they know how this will all play out at this point really has no idea. This is really uncharted waters for college basketball and as such, no one really knows how the NCAA, the schools involved, the individuals involved or even Federal authorities will act or react to whatever transpires. It does have the potential to transform the way college basketball operates.
I've been around the game long enough and talked to enough people to know there are people out there who are not following the rules, whether that is the NCAA's rules or the laws of our country. I sleep easy at night knowing I did follow the rules and I know a lot of other current and former coaches and players are in the same boat. The concern I have is that if there are a bunch of people and programs caught up in this scandal, it will cast a dark cloud over all of college basketball and everyone involved, much the way the NCAA's death penalty did the same thing to everyone associated with SMU, regardless of whether or not they ever had anything to do with the football program that triggered the penalty.
As someone who never took a dime or received any kind of improper benefit to play college basketball, my firsthand knowledge about those who did is very limited. From what I have gathered, the culture of the game has done a fairly good job of separating those who paid/got paid and those who did neither. I had coaches recruit me, who were later implicated in various NCAA violations, but none of them ever even suggested they were interested in doing anything remotely improper in order to get me to attend their school. They coaches who were crooked at least some of the time somehow knew who the crooked players were and who the straight players were and never seemed to confuse the two.
Coaches and players seemed to talk more freely about NCAA rules they violated when I was in the NBA, but I could sense many were still somewhat guarded, at least if they knew some of the people in the room were clean. As such, I think it's entirely likely that even if a program is caught up in this scandal, I don't think it means every coach, every player or every administrator in the program had knowledge of what had transpired, let alone personal involvement. I think clean coaches may have worked alongside crooked coaches and clean players may have played alongside crooked players, without ever having know what transpired.
I hope fans of the game and members of the media keep this in mind as more information comes out. The entire game and everyone involved should not be tainted by the actions of some (how many or what percentage, I have no idea). If all of this does lead to meaningful changes in how the game operates, I will be very happy for the coaches and players who did not get caught up in these misdeeds, but also for those who did and now have an opportunity to come clean.
I think in an honest moment most of those involved in rule-breaking, at least on the coaching side, would prefer that it wasn't a part of the game at all. I think they'd prefer to compete on a level playing field and convince recruits to attend their schools because of the quality of the education, campus life, the personalities of the coaching staff & teammates and all the other factors that don't involve illicit payments. I say most, because there will always be some who know they aren't as good a coach as their competition, their school isn't as attractive and their program isn't as competitive, so they'd probably prefer to continue operating in a system that gives them an unfair advantage.
I'm not sure what to make of those on the receiving end of improper benefits or hoping to be, whether that is the player directly or a family member, AAU coach or some other person of influence. They may feel like they are being punished for doing something lots of other people were doing, but somehow managed to elude detection or they are missing out on financial windfalls others have received for years and are somehow due to them as well.
I think anyone on the receiving end should be subjected to penalties associated with income tax evasion, if they did not report the benefits they received on their taxes, whether it came in the form of cash, cars, houses, etc... I'm surprised that hasn't really been mentioned in any of the news reports and wonder if people who knowingly engaged in prohibited activities on the receiving end are somehow viewed as victims instead of willing participants? If you don't charge those on the receiving end, do you really create any deterrent for others to engage in similar behavior in the future?
Buckle up, it could be a bumpy ride...or a big nothingburger.