Fixing college basketball’s dark underbelly not as hard as it looks

Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino is embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of college basketball in recent history
Dec 19, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino reacts during the first half against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at KFC Yum! Center. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a week since the college basketball world was flipped upside down by the FBI investigation that led to multiple coaches being arrested. And with the college basketball season fast approaching, there is a lot of uncertainty looming over the NCAA.

The team with the most questions surrounding its program is the Louisville Cardinals. Louisville has started the process to oust its coach of sixteen seasons, Rick Pitino, after the FBI probe revealed that his staff was involved in orchestrating a $100,000 payment to a recruit through Adidas. Adidas is the Cardinals’ athletic wear provider, and apparently it has a lot of pull in where a recruit decides to play.

Pitino hinted of shoe companies being involved in recruiting in an interview with Campus Insiders’ Seth Davis back in 2014.

“Why wouldn’t I promote an Adidas school knowing that it looks better for me for my players to go to it? [Because] I’m being paid,” Coach Pitino reasoned from the perspective of the average AAU coach. “The same thing is true of Nike and now Under Armour who’s been coming in a strong way.”

Just because Pitino was on thin ice from prior mistakes he made on the recruiting trail doesn’t mean we should dismiss his statements from earlier days. This is the way college basketball is now. The question is, who owns it? It’s certainly not looking like the NCAA does.

Jay Williams backed up Pitino’s testimony on ESPN’s Outside the Lines a few days after the FBI complaint surfaced. Williams noted that he’s seen the dark side of college basketball for a long time. He even admitted that his past employer, Ceruzzi Sports, paid Kevin Love through his AAU program.

“There were a lot of dealings that were being made that people didn’t know about. There was a lot of money being exchanged. I know for a fact — there was a reported story from Yahoo! Sports back in 2009 — I know that we gave an AAU coach for a guy named Kevin Love who plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers. We gave him over $250,000. Now, at the time, we were also giving other players money because you were allowed to give players money through their AAU programs.”

Now that fans know about this, college basketball will be seen in an entirely new light.

Examples like these aren’t the worst of what the NCAA has to worry about. Multiple assistant coaches took bribes from a financial adviser to get their players to use them for services. Some coaches distributed money to players to help this cause, but none bothered researching the man they were working for. Not only were they breaking federal law, they were putting their athletes at financial risk in the process.

The fact that the FBI had to step in to clean up all of the corruption in college basketball is enough evidence to prove the NCAA has no idea what’s taking place right under its nose. Either that’s or it would rather not fool with it and risk its image.

The main reason there are so many problems surrounding college basketball is because the idea of the NCAA is corrupt itself.

Young players today grew up watching men like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, two players who never attended college. But these young players are forced to attend college for at least year before entering the draft. Legally, their AAU coaches are allowed to reap the profits that they have sown, but the NCAA refuses to give them a dime when they sign with one of their schools. If they accept any money from third parties or sell any NCAA merchandise, they (and possibly their team) are penalized in return.

For the NCAA to regain its integrity three things need to happen.

First, the players need more freedom.

College players don’t have the time to have jobs. Regardless of education being paid for or not, college kids need money to get by. College athletes should be allowed to sell their autograph, gear, etc. Why should a random fan be able to profit off an athlete’s possession, but not the athlete himself?

Secondly, the One-And Done rule needs to go. There’s a reason why NBA commissioner Adam Silver has hinted he’s open to abolishing this rule.

The One-and-Done rule hasn’t been good for the game ever since it came into play in 2006. All it has done is prevent teams from developing players/teams, polarized the basketball powers, and devalued education. A player shouldn’t be forced to attend college if he doesn’t want to. If NBA scouts believe he’s ready after high school then there is no reason why he shouldn’t get a fair shot without a one-year detour through higher education first.

Finally, shoe companies shouldn’t be controlling recruiting.

Pitino and Williams both attested to the black market of college basketball. Shoe companies put on countless camps and tournaments for recruits, along with AAU sponsorships. Coaches then guide their players to play in college for a team that same brand sponsors, in exchange for a hefty check. Yet a kid can’t sell his sneakers without his team facing probational consequences.

College sports won’t gain any true integrity until athletes stop being preyed upon by their trusted superiors.