Time for college basketball to clean up mess

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A graphic used by acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim is displayed during a news conference, help to outline federal corruption charges in the arrest of four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, the University of Southern California and Oklahoma State, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

An NBA scout relayed this story to me seven years ago. A potential NBA lottery pick was at the 2008 NBA combine, a freshman who had declared early for the draft. NBA super agent David Falk, best known for representing Michael Jordan, asked around about how to gain the player’s trust to represent him.

The universal response was: “You’re three years too late.”

The triangular trade involving agents/financial advisors, shoe companies and players has been well known by those who cover college basketball on a regular basis. It’s how recruiting works when dealing with certain elite players.

Third parties create plausible deniability for schools and coaches. Deals, some totaling as high as six-figures, get brokered with kids as young at 16 and 17 years old. Financial advisors and shoe companies connected with schools and coaches steer players to a program for financial gain down the road.

I’ll share some blame as a college basketball journalist that we grew numb to the process and didn’t do more to try to uncover the corruption and under-the-table dealings. The NCAA and its member institutions deserve blame too, for not effectively policing the sport.

The FBI did what we could not do when it revealed Tuesday that 10 people, including four assistant basketball coaches, were indicted on a fraud and corruption scheme in which alleged bribes were being offered to student athletes. Among those named were Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, USC assistant Tony Bland, Arizona assistant Emmanuel Richardson and Oklahoma State assistant Phillip Evans. The shoe company Adidas also was named in the probe, while South Carolina, Louisville, Miami were indirectly named as “University 2”, “University 6” and “University 7”.

The dominoes are already starting to fall. Person was placed on unpaid leave at Auburn. Louisville coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid leave today, while athletic director Tom Jurich went on paid leave. Miami coach Jim Larranaga’s attorney, Stuart Grossman, claimed that Larranaga had no knowledge of any under the table dealings within his basketball program.

It would be naive to think the probe will only involve the above mentioned schools and players. Of the 10 charged, odds are probable that at least one will go Henry Hill and become a cooperating government witness. Unlike the NCAA, the FBI has subpoena power. In the coming months, a one-shining moment montage could be made with coaches in federal court on the witness stand.

This could be a positive for college basketball down the road, to weed out the bad actors and bad influences who have bastardized the recruiting process. But it will only work if it influences fundamental change within the sport.

How do we fix it? Here are some thoughts:

— Lower the NBA draft minimum age to 18. Let players who want to turn professional out of high school go pro. Expand the NBA draft to five rounds, 10 rounds, however long so that kids won’t get humiliated if they don’t hear their names called.

— Make G League a true minor league basketball system, with 30 affiliates to represent all 30 NBA teams. Let Adidas and other shoe companies fund the G League to improve salaries. An 18-year-old prospect who doesn’t make an NBA roster can develop in the G League, like a minor league baseball player would before being called up to the majors.

— Make players who sign college basketball scholarships commit for at least three years. Take away the one-and-done farce in which certain players who intend to turn pro after their freshman season mail it in academically.

Would that system water down the talent at the college basketball level? Yes. But it would also take the financial element out of the sport that’s stained the current model. It would also create more parity. College basketball was immensely popular in the 1980s and 1990s in part because you got to know the stars who stayed for three or four years. Teams were more cohesive. Florida’s back-to-back national title teams in 2006 and 2007 thrived because the same starting five stayed together for both seasons.

Fans would still flock to games because the brand names of schools in the power conferences remain powerful. March Madness would remain compelling because of its structure and one-game elimination format that lends itself to David occasionally slaying Goliath.

I’m all for allowing elite basketball players to try to make money off their names and their likeness as young as they can. Just don’t use college basketball as the vehicle to make that happen.

 

18 COMMENTS

  1. Those suggestions are reasonable, but the age for the NBA is a union type of issue, making three years mandatory by NCAA rules would be challenged in court, and there is one easy fix, be ethical. I wonder how the FBI has time and resources for this when we have terrorists and gangs running around free.

  2. ”For too long, college basketball has been two different games. One transpired on a hardwood court. The other took place under a table.” ~Dan Bickley (Sports writer).

    Great article, Kevin! And I am so proud of what Coach Spurrier, Coach ‘D’, Urban Meyer, and now Mike White did going to the ”Elite 8” last sping -without- ”PAYING ANYONE UNDER THE TABLE”! And the good Lord knows that Coach ‘W’ had some gritty, but under-rated players, who still made a magical run for the Univeristy of Florida this past spring in 2017. And then to think back to what Joakim, Corey, Taurean, Al, Lee, Chris, and Company did in ’06-’07 (NATIONAL CHAMPIONS & BACK TO BACK, TOO) is EVEN MORE SPECIAL in light of all the ”under the table payments” made to 17-18 yr. old kids at OTHER COLLEGE SCHOOLS. I am so dang proud to be a Gator, TODAY more than ever! CHOMP-CHOMP!

    • I’m interested gatorgi70x7. How do you state your assertions of the clean UF programs as fact? I certainly hope you are correct, but I have nowhere near the same confidence as you.

      • As of today, and as far as I know (reading the indictment by the F.B.I.), U.F. has not been mentioned in any articles, or indictments. That is with regards to this college ”pay for play” scandal. Of course, we all know of 9 (former-hopefully) Gator players that have criminal charges that have very little to do with the coaches and ”pay for play”. That’s all I am basing my ”assertions on”. And it’s been a very long time since Spurrier left, and quite a while since Coach ‘D’ and Urban Meyer left U.F., and ”NADA” on alleged crimes, ”When Programs Collide”.

  3. Thanks for this Kevin, and for your excellent prescription for fixing this mess. One-and-done should have a stake pounded through its heart.
    I’m guessing Kentucky fans are unenthusiastic about the changes you have prescribed.

  4. Great points, Kevin. I agree: it’s time everyone connected with NCAA basketball realize that the one-and-done phenomenon is destroying the sport and tarnishing the universities involved. Let the top tier players — the ones Adidas, Nike and the rest are interested in — go pro and let colleges retain a modicum of student in the “student-athlete”. We’ll still support our team and enjoy it more in the long run. Go Gators!

  5. Kevin this is a great article. I don’t know why BBall can’t do what baseball has done for years – if you’re good enough coming out of high school to sign a pro contract, then god bless you. If not, go to college for three years, have a blast. You’re still playing the sport you love, and at a high level, and you can get better at it.

    Coach Sully and his Gator baseball program manage to recruit and retain the majority of the H.S. studs they’re interested in and it’s a win-win. We get great college baseball and the remarkable few try their hand in the pros.

  6. If Cal and his sleazy relationship with “World Wide Wes”, getting about 3 top 10 one n done “diaper dandies” a year doesn’t eventually get named, that would be astonishing.

  7. When those who cover college BB recruiting for years have issued quotes like “he won’t be going to UF, because UF is a Nike school. He’ll go to a school like Kansas, which is an Adidas school, and he’s on the Adidas AAU team”, I knew something was rotten in Denmark.

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