The FBI made quite a splash on Tuesday. Eliot Ness would have been proud of U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim, who announced that the bureau was bringing the hammer down on four NCAA assistant basketball coaches on bribery and corruption charges, and that it was also digging into a cash scheme involving a high-level Adidas executive and several of the college programs he had infiltrated.
Heads have already rolled — starting with legendary Louisville hoops coach Rick Pitino on Wednesday — and more of them are sure to find the, uh, basket. Thursday, ESPN and ABC News reported that the FBI has also subpoenaed officials of Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League.
“For the defendants charged today, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March,” Kim said. “We hope these charges and arrests will help keep the sport clean and honest.”
During his news conference, the prosecutor released a phone number that would serve as a “tip line” for anyone wishing to come forward with further information.
I’m coming forward here and now. I have a lot of information for the FBI.
I’ll start with this eye-opening tidbit: The NCAA is rotten to the core. And it isn’t just men’s basketball. College football is just as sullied. Or perhaps I should be more specific. These sports are Mud Bowl-dirty in the power conferences.
For smaller schools, or for baseball or soccer programs or what the universities like to call the “Olympic sports,” the situation hasn’t strayed so awfully far from the ideal. Some athletes get full scholarships to play. Many get partial scholarships. Many others donate their time to the schools because they love their sports and/or want to advance their careers.
They compete before small crowds. “Cheating” is generally limited to stealing the catcher’s signs.
In big-conference football and men’s basketball, the violations aren’t perpetrated by a handful of rogue assistants. They are endemic to the sports. In fact, they propel the sports. Talk to any college student who knows a few football players and he or she can describe the nice cars all those athletes are driving. Fathers or uncles miraculously appear at the end of the bench, clipboard in hand.
Basketball is the worst, because the shoe companies have squeezed the game like the kraken. Promising prospects are identified and wooed by middle school. And as the details of the FBI charges explain, AAU coaches lead kids to the camps of specific apparel makers, who then funnel the kids to specific colleges (which also wear those brands), who then direct their athletes to specific agents and clothing reps. With palms greased at every step.
This all will make sense when I provide the FBI with the following additional information: Big-time college sports are awash in money. Swimming in it. They belly-flop into pools of cash and spit coins when they bob to the surface.
Last October, Business Insider ranked the top earners in college sports. Texas A&M led the way at $192.6 million, followed by Texas at $183.5 million and Ohio State at $167.2 million.
The Pacific coast was not left begging. Oregon was ranked at No. 21, Washington at No. 23 and UCLA at No. 25, all them reeling in between $96 million and $106 million.