October 6th, 2017

Reed: Pitino, college basketball has lost their integrity

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Billy Reed

Executive Editor 


Reed: Pitino, college basketball has lost their integrity
Rick Pitino has been fired as U of L's coach / photo from gocards.com

“I don’t know if we can get any lower than the situation we’re in now…We’ve had this underworld as part of the fabric (of college basketball) for a long, long time. A long, long time.”

-- Mike Brey, Notre Dame coach

For many years, big-time college basketball has been a ticking bomb. We all knew it because it was right there in front of us, as obvious as Rick Pitino’s designer suits. We all understood that the shoe companies and AAU summer coaches were running the sport more than the college presidents and the NCAA.

What did we do? Sadly, not much. All of us – administrators, coaches, media, and fans – watched our sport sell its soul. We’re all part of the problem, complicit in the monstrous scandal that amounts to nothing less than the abuse and exploitation of children.

The ticking bomb finally exploded last week. It wasn’t set off by investigators, whistle-blowers, or watchdogs from the NCAA or the media. It was set off by the FBI, for heaven’s sake, and it blew up five major programs that had been helping the apparel giant Adidas funnel money to recruits.

Although a criminal complaint filed in the southern district of New York identified assistant coaches at Auburn, Arizona, Southern Cal, and Oklahoma State by name, it was the fifth school, which wasn’t specifically identified in the charges that drew the most attention.

That’s because it was easy to put the clues together and figure out that “University 6,” as it was known in the FBI documents, was the University of Louisville, the largest money-earning program in the nation and a perennial national championship contender going back to the 1950s.

What was especially shocking was that news of the FBI investigation broke even as U of L and Hall-of-Fame coach Rick Pitino were still fighting NCAA sanctions stemming from sex-and-stripper parties apparently arranged by Andre McGee, the former director of basketball operations, from 2011-13.

So when the NCAA comes to Louisville again, as it inevitably will, the so-called “death penalty,” no varsity competition for a year, could be on the table. A coach can claim he didn’t know what was going on once and maybe get away with it. But not twice. On his way out of town to his home in Florida, Pitino claimed he would be vindicated. But he also put his Louisville home on the market.

But the point here is not to rehash the Louisville mess. The point is to underline the FBI’s indication that the five programs may only be the tip of the iceberg. Nobody who follows the sport is surprised, which is a sad commentary on what’s been going on.

Fortunately, solutions are available if the college presidents, who supposedly run the NCAA, have the guts to use them. This is unlikely, of course, because addressing the problems head-on would make the presidents unpopular with the alumni and the fans, possibly even costing some their jobs.

But they must do something to end the summer AAU camps and leagues sponsored by the shoe companies. This is where the corruption begins because this is where the predators first get their hooks into the young players.

They must demand that money from apparel-and-shoe companies goes not to the coaches – Pitino got 98 per cent of the money U of L received from Adidas –- but to academic programs or a fund that pay for the medical bills and education of former players.

They must order their coaches to stop hiring assistants whose main value isn’t their coaching ability, but their ability to become so accepted in the murky underworld of college basketball that they will do anything to get five-star players.

They must disband independent athletics associations and bring collegiate sports back under the university’s umbrella.

They should adopt a policy that no coach or athletics director can be paid more than the highest paid academic dean. At U of L, amazingly, athletics director Tom Jurich was paid more annually than the combined amount that was budgeted for the English, math, biology and history departments.

They must orchestrate a significant overhaul of the NCAA, which has become bloated and ineffective. The case be made that because the latest scandal was unearthed by the FBI instead of the NCAA, the NCAA is guilty of “lack of institutional control.”

They must reclaim the academic integrity they abandoned when they did nothing about the “one-and-done” loophole. They can solve this by making freshmen ineligible for varsity competition, which was the case from 1955-’75.

But the other culprits also need to help.

Local media should start practicing old-fashioned journalism and stop being boosters for the home team. Alumni and faculty must support any president committed to reform. Everyone must stop condoning cheating on the grounds that “everyone else is doing it.”

For some deeply involved in the culture of corruption, the consequences of their cheating will be worse than just losing a job, but perhaps it will take the sight of a coach in handcuffs and an orange jump suit to convince everyone in the college hoops world that the sport has reached a major juncture in its history.

Although nobody who loves college hoops is happy about the FBI sting, it’s probably what the sport needed. Big-time college basketball has had plenty of time and opportunity to police itself, but lost the ability or the will to do it.

The price for such gross negligence is steep, but the good news is that the FBI stepped into the swamp at just the right time. All is not lost if everybody who loves the sport finds their lost moral compass – it’s probably hidden in a basketball shoe – and begins putting integrity first.

 

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