What if they gave an NCAA men’s basketball tournament, and only the University of Phoenix and Southeastern Western A&M showed up?
That isn’t going to happen next month. But by the time federal prosecutors call to the witness stand John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, Roy Williams and other big-name coaches, the world outside college basketball may be ready to say that if baseball can call off a World Series, the NCAA can stop the party until the slime is hosed off the industry.
A Yahoo! Sports report early Friday disclosed more consequences for college hoops in the NCAA’s century-long scam to preserve amateurism that enriches schools, coaches, athletics directors, TV networks and sponsors — everyone but the athletes — part of which has been under investigation by the FBI for almost two years.
Besides identifying top-shelf hoops programs such as Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and Michigan State as potential violators of the NCAA’s impermissible-benefits rules, Yahoo says the FBI documents included for the first time the University of Washington.
Documents disclosed that Markelle Fultz, who played a single season for the Huskies a year ago under coach Lorenzo Romar and became the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick, was allegedly paid $10,000 by ASM Sports, an agency run by former NBA agent Brad Miller, a primary target of the federal probe. Fultz did not sign with ASM.
Also mentioned was another former Huskies player, Dejounte Murray, who allegedly received $500.
The UW athletics department released a statement:
“University of Washington athletic department officials are aware of a report alleging that a former UW men’s basketball player accepted improper benefits as an amateur. We take these allegations very seriously, and are working to gather more information about this situation. Washington athletics is committed to full compliance with NCAA legislation and with any investigations that may result from these allegations.”
Fultz’s name appears on ASM’s balance sheet under loans to players:
No other evidence, such as a promissory note, transaction date or payback was provided in the story, so it’s not publicly known if Fultz took the money, and if he did, when he took it, and whether Romar or other UW employees were aware of the alleged transaction. No allegation of criminal misconduct by UW has been reported.
In response to the allegations in the story, NCAA president Mark Emmert, the former president of UW, issued a statement Friday morning:
“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.”
When the first charges by the FBI were filed in September, four assistant coaches were arrested, including one at Arizona and one at USC, as well six others, including two executives from Adidas sportswear. Federal charges included bribery and wire fraud.
A USC player, point guard De’Anthony Melton, withdrew from school because of the scandal.
Emmert said in January that the commission will have a report by April with recommendations for changes as soon as the 2018-19 season. But if Emmert is serious about “systemic failures” in college basketball, the system is not going to get fixed in eight months by a committee — members of which are likely to have some interest in the preservation of the status quo — that lacks subpoena power to induce truth-telling.
What the FBI’s subpoena power has discovered is a black market for talent procurement that barely can be called underground. For years, agents have been funneling money to players and/or families through shoe-company reps and others close to the premier NCAA programs.
While coaches and their schools usually claim either innocence, ignorance or both about the rules-breaking, the NCAA is supposed to hold accountable the coaches via compliance programs at each school. But if the “loans” occurred before a player signs a letter of intent, the NCAA and the school in theory have no jurisdiction.
The FBI arrests of the assistant coaches on criminal charges, not NCAA rules-breaking, can be a pivot point that changes that game, perhaps permanently, because those charged broke criminal law. If the allegations prove true and result in jail time — imagine what stories these charged coaches will tell prosecutors to keep themselves out of the hoosegow — the NCAA will be forced to confront its basic corruption.
The NCAA has maintained a steadfast commitment to amateurism, despite the fact that amateurism exists at a high level in sports almost nowhere else in the capitalist world. The International Olympic Committee, which played an early 20th century role in creating amateur sports, gave up on the nonsense 3o years ago.
As long as the NCAA continues to try to fence off its athletes from the rewards of the industry’s global reach and popularity, the college presidents and their supplicants will continue to be plagued by scandal, hypocrisy, black markets and corruption.
As I wrote recently, the only solution that works is to completely professionalize football and men’s basketball, the revenue sports that sustain (or nearly so) every school’s non-revenue programs because of the immense TV rights fees produced.
Any steps short of that by Emmert’s committee will be a band-aid, a kick of the can down the road. The banning of shoe-company reps and their runners, the tightening of compliance rules and the strengthening of sanctions will serve only to push the banned activities underground. They will be worked around as long as athletes remain deliberately impoverished by NCAA rules.
One would think the NCAA executives and school presidents would be exhausted by swimming against the current. Perhaps the drowning of a few careers above the pay grade of an assistant coach will inspire a recognition of the only pragmatic direction.