Editorials NCAA Opinion

Doing Right by Student Athletes is the Only Way to Begin Fixing a Broken NCAA

Amid another ugly scandal, the solutions to fixing the NCAA's ugly stain of corruption begins with taking measures to simply do right by their student athletes.

“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA. I don’t think there is,” James said Tuesday. “It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years. I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it.”

That sentiment from Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar LeBron James was in reference to the most recent developing scandal surrounding the NCAA and “pay for play” corruption up and down the collegiate hoops landscape — and he’s spot on in his analysis. In the wake of a federal bribery and corruption case that resulted in the indictments of several NCAA coaches as well as agents and executives from Adidas, a powerhouse shoe and apparel company that has a financial stake in college hoops, corruption in collegiate athletics has reared its ugly head once again.

The sweeping federal indictments this past fall saw four assistant coaches — Arizona assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson, Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans, and University of Southern California assistant coach Tony Bland — Adidas executive James Gatto, sports agent Christian Dawkins, a financial advisor and a youth coach all arrested as part of a federal investigation that accused the indicted of a plethora of crimes all centered around a massive “pay for play” scheme.

The trial is now reaching the discovery stage in federal court, and if you thought that Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino loosing his job, as a loosely tied result (the Adidas scandal was the icing on the mounting ‘cake’ of infractions under Pitino’s watch), was the last of the backlash, you’re probably dead wrong.

Most recently, Yahoo! Sports dropped a bombshell investigative report surrounding some of the evidence coming to light in the federal trial, that named current and former NCAA coaches in business expense reports from agents as well as hours of recordings from federal wiretaps conducted over the course of the investigation.

Michigan State’s NBA lottery prospect, Miles Bridges was named as a current player who received at minimum, payment for meals from an agent, but was quickly cleared by the NCAA after Michigan State swiftly opened an investigation of the findings and turned them over to the NCAA offices in an act of an abundance of caution.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Then there was the conflicting reports surrounding Arizona head coach Sean Miller and current NBA lottery hopeful DeAndre Ayton that resulted in Miller opting to sit out of last Sunday’s game, before returning this week and denying the rumors surrounding him that stemmed from an ESPN report. ESPN has since responded by stating that they stand by their original report.

One thing is for sure here, and it has nothing to do with Bridges, Miller or Ayton — it’s the simple fact that this is going to be an ugly shit-storm that will blast the current NCAA landscape and muddy the names of hundreds of players and coaches involved. It’s not likely to affect the approaching March Madness landscape like some thought it might, because the majority of (and the most damning) evidence is under a federal gag order for the time being.

March Madness will roll on, hundreds of thousands of people will exchange their hard earned money in pools and bracket challenges, and consume all of the March Madness magic that they can handle like they do every year. This latest (of countless) scandal will not change a damn thing in college basketball or the greedy NCAA empire, and that’s why LeBron James is spot on in his assessment — the NCAA is broken. 

But this is just the most recent ugly reminder of something that we’ve known for ever. Paying NCAA players has been going on for decades upon decades if not forever. Even in this area, we don’t have to go too far back to remember the time Illinois’ assistant coach Jimmy Collins allegedly offered Deon Thomas a car to come to Champaign and play for the Illini, a conversation that was recorded by then Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl in the late 1980’s (discipline was handed down on November 7, 1990).

Even this latest web of lies and infractions has local ties to some degree, as Lamont Evans (one of the four assistants facing federal charges in last fall’s sweeping indictments) was employed by current Illini Head Coach Brad Underwood at Oklahoma State during the time of the accused incidents. When asked about the news of his former assistant’s involvement back in September, Underwood had this to say to the Chicago Tribune via the Illinois’ Athletics Department, “Like many in our industry, I was surprised by yesterday’s events,” Underwood said in the statement released by the Illinois athletic department. “From our first conversation in March, athletic director Josh Whitman and I have shared a mutual commitment to Illinois men’s basketball upholding the highest standards of integrity. I appreciate his ongoing encouragement and support. I stand ready to assist as needed to protect the game of basketball, and those who play it, on our campus and elsewhere.”

Underwood and Evans also worked together for five seasons at Kansas State and South Carolina under Frank Martin. Now, I’m by no means accusing Brad Underwood of any wrong doing, but I’m not absolving him either. The ties are there that make it quite possible that he just hasn’t been caught (or named publicly) yet.

So what’s the fix? Well, that answer is one that we may never actually find, but there are ‘fixes’ that can be made to begin to eliminate the corruption. First and foremost, the NBA’s ”one and done” rule should be scrapped. The rule was stupid to begin with, and nothing more than a money grab for the NCAA. The NBA and the NCAA tried to sell it as, among other things, a way to ensure that kids have the chance to go to college and potentially decide to pursue the completion of their degrees before making the jump to the professional game.

Bullshit. The rule was never for the betterment of anyone but the NCAA.

Some, no, many of these kids have underlying factors that require them to cash in on their talents and go pro immediately. Many of the kids that the NCAA and the NBA were trying to “protect” have kids of their own to take care of. Many of them come from low-income families and poverty stricken neighborhoods that offer nothing more than the temptation of bad, that too often results in disastrous outcomes for these kids.

“Obviously, I’ve never been a part of it, so I don’t know all the ins and outs about it,” James said. “I do know what five-star athletes bring to a campus, both in basketball and football. I know how much these college coaches get paid. I know how much these colleges are gaining off these kids. … I’ve always heard the narrative that they get a free education, but you guys are not bringing me on campus to get an education, you guys are bringing me on it to help you get to a Final Four or to a national championship, so it’s just a weird thing.” -LeBron James on NCAA Corruption

If a kid has the talent, and wants to go pro after high school, he should be allowed to do so. I mean, seriously, how ass-backwards is this logic, “You need money for your family, but first you have to leave them behind and go to a campus for a year, remain academically eligible and play out a full season and tournaments and hope you don’t blow your knees out before you can maybe go to the NBA, depending on how you played. Oh, and if you fail those classes you never gave a shit about, you can’t play.”

But yeah, let’s crucify the kid for letting a filthy rich representation agency or shoe company help pay their mom’s delinquent electric bills. All the while, the NCAA rakes in the cash from that kid’s efforts. How anyone in their right mind ever thought that was fair, is absolutely inconceivable.

“But it will water down the NBA ranks if kids that aren’t ready for the level of competition make their way into the draft!”

Again, bullshit. The combination of the level of advanced scouting that reaches all the way down to the junior high ranks in this day and age, and the fact that the NBA has an existing minor league system in place in the form of the G-League, debunks that ludicrous rationale in a heartbeat.

Photo Credit: Associated Press

The only party in this scenario that will “suffer” will be the NCAA. I have two feelings on that theory, with the first being quite simply — too damn bad for the NCAA. For years the NCAA has benefited from NBA caliber talent being forced to go to their schools and generate them millions, and billions of dollars for the year that they’re there, if they were to take a hit in their plump wallets for the betterment of the kids fueling their cash cow, I’m not losing a second of sleep over it.

My second feeling on that theory is that the NCAA will actually be better off.  Sure, they’ll lose a ton of money in the change, but that money was never rightfully theirs anyways, so too bad. On the flip side, the quality of the game will benefit from players who actually want to go to college, playing college basketball. Coaches will be able to craft recruiting classes knowing that they’ll have two to four years with their best players, a bigger window to be successful.

Will ditching the asinine “one and done” rule stop illegal back-door payments in collegiate basketball? Absolutely not, but it undoubtedly will curtail it when you have kids at places they want to be, because they’re invested in their education and their programs rather than being forced to be there and being hung out to dry financially for a year.

That brings me to my second major change for the NCAA, one that’s far less likely to happen due to the rampant level of greed controlling the NCAA — PAY STUDENT ATHLETES!

In 2018, with the money that the NCAA, NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, and all of the countless television and radio outfits make off of these kids, it’s a damn travesty that we still can’t get behind a compensation system for the kids that are fueling the mega cash cows that I mentioned.

I’m not just talking about college hoops, I’m talking about all of the student athletes that are buying mansions in the Hampton’s for others with their blood, sweat and tears. These kids go to school five days per week, modeling a full-time job’s work-load, and then are expected to train, practice and perform at a professional level come game day.

“But they get paid in scholarships.”

More bullshit. A minority of the body of student athletes in collegiate sports receive full scholarships for the duration of their degrees, the others leave school with heaping mounds of debt in the form of student loans. But the adults making money off of them are driving around luxury cars and eating at high-end steakhouses, while the kids putting on the show are using public transportation and eating microwavable dinners in their tiny shared dorm rooms while they hit the books and nurse their bumps and bruises that put the adults behind the wheel of their Cadillac Escalade.

Not only is it the right thing to do morally, paying student athletes is the smart thing to do if you want to minimize the stain of repeated bribery and money laundering scandals mauling the NCAA’s public image.

I don’t believe that anything will truly exterminate the corruption that festers throughout the entirety of the NCAA ranks, but doing these aforementioned things are a hell of a start.

Abolishing the “one and done” rule in college hoops, and paying student athletes for their hard work really isn’t even about fixing the corruption of the adults that oversee their direction as student athletes, it’s about finally doing what’s right by them. The positive results that bleed into the corruption spectrum are just the icing on the cake here.

Feature photo credit: Image via Blueag9 CC By 2.0


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