The events of Friday morning in the college basketball world had been building for some time. Yet when the report by Yahoo’s Pat Forde and Pete Thamel named players — past and current — who allegedly received benefits from agent Andy Miller, his associate Christian Dawkins, and ASM Sports, there wasn’t much outrage.
The news was met with more of a “meh.”
A number of elite college basketball players — from Bam Adebayo and Markelle Fultz to current players such as Miles Bridges and Collin Sexton — were named in the report. Some allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars while others simply met with the agency, which isn’t technically an NCAA violation.
What’s clear about all this is that many major programs have players involved in this investigation.
Some have joked that there might not be an NCAA Tournament this year, given all the connections in the story. As of lunch time, the NCAA has not yet cancelled the sport, but it did put out a statement on the matter via NCAA President Mark Emmert.
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules. Following the Southern District of New York’s indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity. We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”
Predictably, the quotes provided by Emmert were picked apart and ridiculed, with ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla asking Emmert to stay away from the investigation.
It’s obvious that the NCAA model of college basketball is broken. But that doesn’t mean that the NCAA or the NBA, or whoever, shouldn’t try to fix it.
As for the NCAA Tournament, you’ll see sportswriters throw out stories on how to “fix” college basketball. They’ll suggest getting shoe companies out of the AAU level. And to do away with the one-and-done rule. And, of course, any coach caught cheating should be thrown out of the game.
But as the Yahoo report shows, this isn’t all about the shoe companies. As long as the shoe companies continue to dole out $100 million contracts, players are going to be drawn into the idea of teaming up with them early. And, sure, a number of the biggest payments allegedly handed out went to one-and-done players. But Kyle Kuzma allegedly received $9,500 while at Utah and he spent three seasons in college. PJ Dozier of South Carolina allegedly received money, and he wasn’t a one-and-done player.
And even if you do throw out every coach tied to the scandal, even if it’s Tom Izzo, John Calipari or Mike Krzyzewski, who all had players named in the report, there’s going to come along a new coach who will be willing to take on players who have taken money from agents or whoever.
In the television show The Wire, after Avon Barksdale was arrested and locked up, drugs didn’t stop getting dealt on Baltimore street corners. A new player, Marlo Stanfield, filled the void as the city’s drug kingpin. And the drug game continued even after he and his crew had been dismantled. The cycle continues.
There isn’t a magic bullet to fix college basketball as we know it. Even if we have schools start paying players above the table — beyond the monthly stipend they’re provided in addition to their scholarships — schools and coaches are still going to do whatever it takes to make it more enticing for players to come to their schools. And that likely comes by under-the-table money.
The NCAA Tournament is set to start in three weeks. Selection Sunday is March 11. Plenty of people will bring up the players who allegedly took money and the coaches who may or may not have known about it. But come March 11, most of the general public won’t care about that, but rather which teams are going to the Final Four. And that’s fine.
Because even if college basketball is broken — and if the report is accurate the sport clearly is — college basketball is still just a game. And the game of college basketball, no matter how dirty or corrupt, will be enjoyed by millions for those four weeks in March and early April. It’s all just a part of the game.
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