5 things that you need to know about college basketball corruption

Rick Pitino went so far beyond arrogant, he got caught and punished for his role in corrupting college basketball.

Over the past six months, we’ve seen a torrent of fascinating reports about college basketball coaches, shoe guys, and players allegedly running afoul of a variety of NCAA rules and federal laws.

Careers have been ended or derailed, and indictments are still pending.  Meanwhile, games are still being played and legacies etched by those playing and coaching a great game.  We are three days away from March – as in March Madness – a monthlong celebration of a great series of 40-minute tests that will determine the next National Champion.

It’s easy to be outraged by occasional lapses in judgment that led to the indictments and firings, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind as you assess the college basketball environment as a cesspool of criminality and exploitation.

Here are five of those things:

5 – Cash is always going to find value.  This isn’t physics as Isaac Newton defined it, but it’s damn close.  When talent drives profit, talent will get a share of that profit.  The NCAA can try like hell to stop it, but cash is going to find a way to slip into the pockets of athletes or those close to them.  Blaming an 18-year-old for accepting cash from a shoe guy establishes a standard of behavior most of us would shun.

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4 – This is nothing new.  Corruption in collegiate athletics has been around since the very beginning, and is featured as a plot point in movies nearly a century old starring The Marx Brothers (“Monkey Business”) and John Barrymore (“Hold that Co-ed”).  There has been outrage followed by attempted reform throughout the last 100+ years with very little accomplished.  It’s likely we will see the same result this time around because the corruption is mostly victimless.

3 – The one-and-done requirement is an NBA rule.  The NCAA has nothing to do with the rule that mandates that potential pros play in college (or somewhere else) before being eligible to play in the NBA.  It exists primarily to delay a player’s contractual progression to a max deal until his productivity equals team investment.  Stan Van Gundy railed against the one-and-done rule as though it comes from the NCAA.  It doesn’t.

2 – Parents are legally paid a sweet sum by shoe companies.  Let’s say there is a high school player who is high demand, and a shoe company wants to establish a financial relation with him.  In many instances, the shoe company will pay the father of the player a significant amount of cash to run the summer hoops program for whom the kid plays.  It’s clean, easy, and entirely legal.  The dad can even be retained as a consultant for the shoe company while the kid plays in college.

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1 – 99.7% of NCAA Division One college basketball players do it on the up and up for the right reasons.  There are 351 D-1 programs with 13 scholarship players each.  That means there are 4,563 scholarships available, and only 18 freshmen players were selected in the 2017 NBA Draft.  We spend a lot of time talking about the one-and-done and its effect on college hoops, but it really isn’t an issue for vast majority of players and teams.  Those players getting a quality education while playing basketball far outnumber those who use college hoops as a way station before playing in the NBA.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-7p, and writes about Indiana sports at kentsterling.com.

3 thoughts on “5 things that you need to know about college basketball corruption

  1. Viktor Goldstein

    I’ll make the same book recommendation I’ve made many times over the years if you want to have a great understanding of the scene as it existed in the 1980s, which was the heyday of the “wild west” stuff in Detroit and really in the Big Ten as well. Since the mid/late 90s, the Big Ten has been generally very clean but in the 80s you had a LOT of cowboys out there riding the range. The book “Raw Recruits” was published in 1990 and you couldn’t ask for a better picture of that time. Alexander Wolff and Armen Keteyian (who went onto a TV career with ABC) were the authors and they got to the nitty gritty. Want to get a better sense of what Syracuse is and has been today? This book covers Rob Johnson, one of the first guys to get tagged as a “bag man” due to the bags of money he’d deliver on behalf of interests connected to the Cuse program. Rich “Dr. Detroit” Daly, an assistant under Norm Stewart at Missouri, gets a lot of time as well, and you can guess why he got that nickname (that’s one distinction between that era and today…today it would be highly unlikely for a coach to be directly involved the way Daly was back then in cheating, payoffs, etc.). There’s a great sequence in that book where Jud is quoted about going down to Detroit Mackenzie when MSU was looking at Doug Smith and seeing his transcript…it was riddled with whiteout, writing in pen as opposed to typed grades, etc. The way Jud describes it in the book, that kind of thing was not unusual in Detroit during that era…a complete free for all. Good stuff as well on Landon “Sonny” Cox, the former coach at Chicago King High and a huge power broker of the era. What’s interesting is that you see almost no discussion of AAU influence, because it really didn’t exist. That book should also serve as a check on those who think solving these problems is as simple as eliminating or curbing the AAU scene…it has always been with us, it’s just that the middlemen were coaching HS teams back then.

    Another amusing (in retrospect) portion of the book is when the authors talk to the next generation coming along in Detroit, most notably one Chris Webber. Lots of talk about how the new kids weren’t down with getting used, bought and sold that way and it would be different with their generation. How about that?

    Anyway, I believe it’s out of print but used copies aren’t hard to find and seem to be pretty cheap on Amazon (I just looked). It’s a hell of a read and a real snapshot of what that world once was, and it gives one a grounding in what’s come along since then.

    Have a great week.


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