If you’ve ever heard the phrase “living under a rock,” it would certainly apply to anyone who found themselves shocked by the latest findings of the FBI’s investigation into improprieties in college athletics. Student-athlete? Amateur athletics? Players and their families have been receiving benefits directly and indirectly from universities for years. This is nothing new. Most fans and alums do the same thing every time……turn the other way, and enjoy the games. Out of sight, out of mind. Hear no evil, see no evil, tell no evil.
It’s one thing when the NCAA, respective conferences, or in rare cases, the schools themselves, choose to report and address this. I suppose it’s a bit different, or little more serious, when it’s the Federal Bureau of Investigations bringing the dirt to the surface.
We got our first taste of their findings last year when they systematically brought down the reign of King Richard himself, Rick Pitino, exposing the litany of garbage going on within his Louisville program. Sure, Rick already had a checkered history on campus. First there was his after-hours “off the menu” entrée at a local Italian restaurant back in ’09. Probably not a good idea to engage in extra-marital sexual acts on a dining room table in a public place, but hey, to each their own I suppose. Then there was the whole hooker-gate incident in the campus dorm his coaching staff applied as a recruiting tool. Hey, come for campus visit….we’ll get you drunk and laid. Coach K doing that for you at Duke? Here’s your letter of intent. Sign at the bottom. Go Cardinals hoops! Ricky P managed to survive both of those deals. Winning cures a lot of ills my friends.
Then the FBI got involved, and what they unearthed was too much for Rick, or longtime athletic director Tom Jurich to overcome. In their pursuit of 5-star recruit Brian Bowen, they attempted to funnel $100,000 to his family. What’s worse? This wasn’t through some really rich booster simply dropping off a suitcase full of cash on their front stoop. This was Adidas money, the program’s official shoe and apparel partner. In the end, Rick was terminated, his legacy ruined, and the team’s championship stripped.
I know this isn’t news. You all know Louisville’s tale. But in the past two weeks the FBI’s probe struck again. This time their path cast a far wider net. Programs included on varying levels of degree in their latest findings are a who’s-who of college basketball: Alabama, Clemson, Creighton, Duke, Iowa State, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, USC, Utah, Villanova, Virginia, Washington, Wichita State Texas and Xavier.
One report allegedly fingers Arizona Wildcat’s head coach Sean Miller for openly discussing a payment of…..wait for it….$100,000 in order to land a specific recruit. Sound familiar?
Illegal benefits to “student-athletes” are nothing new. As I said, it’s been going on seemingly forever. Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson once famously said the biggest difference in going to the NFL from Southern Methodist University was the pay cut he’d have to take. It’s common knowledge to any collegiate sports fan that players have gotten a lil’ something-something on the side for years. A few hundos here and there? Foul? Yes. Harm? Not really. Some new threads here and there? Foul? Yes. Harm? Not really. Some coaches took a bit further than that.
Loose cash. New clothes. The occasional new car. $100 grand up front for signing on the dotted line? Perhaps more once they’re in the program? What’s changed? Why so much more now? For one, there’s a whole lot more to go around. In the 1980s I’m not sure there was a head coach making more than a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Today, we’ve got coaches making upwards of 8 million dollars a year. The top 50 coaches, after incentives, endorsements, and shoe deals, make no less than 2 million and change per year. The schools? With the emergence of conference networks, let alone national and cable networks, are raking in more money than they can spend. Just look at today’s collegiate arenas, football stadiums, and practice facilities. They’re basically on par with professional sports venues. In some cases, even superior. Amateur athletics? Think again!
Alas comes the big question: What can be done? I often humor myself into thinking I have a lot of answers to a lot of problems. The problem here is I simply don’t have the answer. The concept of collegiate athletics has never changed. Players get a free education, and free room & board. In exchange, they compete for their respective schools in sport. At some point however, when do we start comparing the price of an education vs. the return garnered from their efforts? I Googled the cost of a 4-year education at Duke University. At $60 grand a year, it would cost a person $240 grand to earn a diploma there.
This year Mike Krzyewski will earn $8.89 million dollars. Yes, he’s the highest paid coach in college basketball. He’s a great coach. Maybe the best ever. Yet the last time I checked, Coach K didn’t score any points or dish out any assists in the latest Duke victory. Make no mistake, one day Coach K will retire, and if the program continues to win, the fans will still pack Cameron Indoor Arena and Duke University will continue to generate millions of dollars from their basketball program.
So based on this, you might think I’m advocating schools to legally and openly pay their players. The thing is, I don’t know how you can do that. That’s called professional sports. Basketball already has a pro sports league….the NBA. How would that even look? I’m thinking back to when I attended Indiana University. So would I now attend a school with 35 thousand other students, but we also have these 12 to 15 other dudes who aren’t really students but in fact university employees who get paid to wear our school’s name on their chest and go out and entertain us 30 times a year? I guess. But why? Why would universities engage in professional sports when people talented enough to play at a pro level could just go play in the pros? It makes no sense.
So the charade continues. The facade of the student-athlete continues. The sanctity of collegiate athletics churns on. Alumni and fans pretend to be shocked and appalled when the FBI probes and investigations emerge. The world’s worst-kept secret continues. Bigger and badder than ever.
I don’t have the answers. Not even sure I have all the questions. But I know what shit smells like…….and the NCAA is foul.