All around college basketball on Tuesday, coaches no doubt became suddenly aware that three letters of the alphabet, arranged in the proper order, could be far more ominous than four.
I mean, which scares you more: F-B-I or N-C-A-A?
If you’re a college coach, the worst that might develop if an NCAA investigation goes against you is the loss of your job and a smudge on your reputation. But if you wind up on the wrong side of the FBI, what becomes at stake is your freedom.
If you believe all of college hoops was thrown for a loop, however, you have become far too jaded as a fan. There were pockets all around the game silently celebrating when the Justice Department presented indictments against 10 men in two cases: one that alleges bribes were paid to college coaches in exchange for steering college players as they turned professional to particular money managers; and another that charges an executive at athletic apparel giant Adidas and several other men were arranging payments to steer players to particular basketball programs and disguising them on the company’s books.
“It’s a good day for people who are doing it for the right reasons,” one coach who fits the description told Sporting News.
They are out there. It would be nice to identify some of them, but to do so would be to exclude too many who might fit the description. Just know that many of them are successful, on the floor and off, but they are feeling that maybe what transpired will give them an even better chance to compete for the prospects they covet.
When FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney said, “Our investigation is ongoing, and we are currently conducting interviews,” it was as much a warning for coaches operating in the future as it was a promise to uncover misdeeds in the past. And though no parents or family members of young athletes were indicted, they would be wise to recognize that the loss of their sons’ eligibility no longer is the worst possible outcome.
It certainly is possible that one of the men indicted could become a CW — cooperating witness — and provide information that leads to more arrests and indictments inside the world of college basketball. And there’s little doubt that what was uncovered here is just a percentage of the corruption that has existed in the process of players advancing from high school to college and then to the NBA.
For the U.S. Attorney’s office to issue the indictments now, however, indicates this case has matured to the point where it soon can be prosecuted. Anyone who has engaged in this sort of activity — and hasn’t been identified — isn’t in the clear. But the greatest risk might be to continue these behaviors.
“Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes,” said Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Fraud, abuse and corruption of the type alleged in the charges brought (Tuesday) contaminates all that is good and pure around it.”
There are some who do not see great innocence in NCAA basketball as it is transacted now, with players receiving “only” coaching, medical care and athletic exposure along with their tuition, living expenses and cost-of-attendance stipends. The NCAA’s amateurism rules have had a pretty rough year in terms of assault by a burgeoning array of critics.
However, those rules again have proven to be useful in combating the exploitation of young athletes. Because each scholarship athlete must sign a document pledging nothing has occurred to corrupt his or her amateur status, and because the schools competing in Division I have pretty much universally accepted federal funds in excess of $10,000, the Justice Department has the latitude to bring fraud charges against someone whose financial inducements might, as the indictment states, lead the “universities to agree to provide athletic scholarships to student-athletes who, in truth and in fact, were ineligible to compete.”
When the “right reasons” coach told me he has never seen as much corruption in the game as now, I reminded him of some of the familiar scenes he likely would remember from Summer Basketball Past. And, he agreed, it was pretty crummy then too.
However, he said, what has changed is the families or handlers of some prospects have become brazen in regard to demands. Whereas before some would want money in exchange for the athlete playing at a particular school, now some request to be paid just for consenting to make an official visit.
How does a “right reasons” coach know this? Because at the hint of such demands, or the inclusion of a handler with a history of crossing that line, the coach moves on to other targets. He knows he might lose a game to that player in the future. It might even be a big game. It might even be an NCAA Tournament game.
Better that than dealing with those three letters sending shivers through college basketball — now more than the four.