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Making Sense of Today’s NCAA Basketball Scandal

What to make of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball’s biggest secret.

Northwestern v Vanderbilt Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It is in no way possible to cover this entire story in just one article. The situation is far too complex, while its depth hits on a multitude of issues that have been threatening the NCAA for years.

Let me start by saying this. I love college basketball. I will never stop watching college basketball. But the NCAA and I have never seen eye to eye.

Well today the NCAA took a huge hit. The FBI blew up college basketball’s worst-kept secret and indicted ten men, including four active coaches and an Adidas executive. Coaches, agents, financial advisers, and sneaker execs were using large payments to steer top recruits to NCAA programs, and then brands and representation once they turn pro.

At the moment, four schools are “involved” - Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State, and USC. Those are the schools by which the charged coaches are employed. But looking a little closer allows the reader to realize that Louisville is also involved here, being tied to payments of $100,000 to “Player 10” - who is also known as five star prospect Brian Bowen. Bottom line: this seems to be the tip of the iceberg.

Some people are shocked, others are disappointed, and I wish I could say I fall into one of those groups, but I don’t. This doesn’t surprise me and if you’re an avid college basketball fan, it really shouldn’t surprise you either.

All it takes is a simple look at the current landscape of college basketball.

  • Last April, the NCAA signed an eight year contract with CBS and Turner Sports worth $8.8 billion for the rights to March Madness - just the postseason tournament. But hey, it’s for the kids!
  • Louisville’s basketball program was valued at $45.4 million in 2016, while the average value of the top 20 programs sat at $20.5 million, according to Forbes.
  • At that same time, of the 50 U.S. states, the highest paid public employee was either a college basketball or football coach in 39 of them. 39 of the 50 states.
  • Money: there is no shortage of money.

That’s just a brief peak into the appearance of the sport.

When your state’s highest employees are football and basketball coaches, you are asking for trouble. It’s beyond hypocritical to have this statement be true, followed by an assertion that a payment system for the players is an outlandish thought.

Players (notice I say players rather than student athletes - take that NCAA) have been unhappy about the current system for years now, so the “scandal” that unfolded today was inevitable. And those who say it wasn’t are totally blind to the world surrounding the game they’ve been watching for the last twenty years.

People get nervous about creating a sense of entitlement if you pay college athletes, and I get that, I really do. But do you think these athletes aren’t entitled already? They bring in millions and millions of dollars in revenue each season, play in front of thousands of screaming fans multiple times a week, and are treated like divine beings on their respective campuses. I understand where your worries come from, but your concerns about entitlement are a little outdated.

Today’s breaking story wouldn’t have been such a massive scandal if there was some form of payment system. It’s not a simple fix - the questions still remain. How would it work? What type of system would be put into place to regulate these stipends? All are relevant questions that should be addressed. But that’s the point - it’s time to address them or else these scandals are going to continue to rock the college sports landscape year after year.

I understand that many of you love the amateur aspect of the game, and I do too. But the ideology of keeping that in tact forever is simply that. A system of ideas. It’s not realistic. As all things do, the college basketball landscape is changing. Coaching salaries are getting higher and higher and profits continue to skyrocket. This isn’t a topic that can be pushed under the rug anymore. Maybe today’s news will help some people to realize that.