An old political saying notes you should never let a good crisis go to waste. In the case of the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball’s underground economy, schools and players alike face a looming catastrophe. Think suspensions and firings. Stripped scholarships and vacated victories. Ruined reputations and tarnished legacies. In short, the usual fallout that accompanies flouting the NCAA’s prohibition on campus athletes being paid.
According to a Yahoo Sports report published last week, financial documents from a single former NBA agent obtained by federal investigators detail a money-and-gift-based player recruiting operation potentially implicating at least 20 Division I hoops programs and more than 25 players, including blue-blood programs like North Carolina and Kentucky and current and former campus stars such as Collin Sexton and Dennis Smith.
Given the sheer scope of the alleged rule-breaking, however, those same schools and players may have a unique, once-in-a-generation opportunity to flip the script. Perhaps there is finally a way to avoid punishment while making things better for both themselves and the sport as a whole. Better still, they could do this without hiring lawyers, issuing denials, or vowing to fight every accusation until the bitter end.
All they have to do is confess.
Perhaps there is finally a way to avoid punishment while making things better for the sport as a whole.
I mean all of them. En masse. Past and present. Every player who has ever received money or gifts under the table; every coach, agent and booster who has ever helped make that happen; every school that has looked the other way because looking the other way is how you win basketball games. Have all of them come forward, tell the truth — clearly and publicly — and then dare the NCAA to crack down.
In other words, call the association’s ongoing bluff.
Granted, this isn’t how college sports scandals typically play out. Most of the time, schools and athletes singled out by the NCAA for amateurism violations hunker down and fight back, denying any wrongdoing. I didn’t accept that money-stuffed envelope. You can’t prove that we set up our star recruit’s mom with a new and better job. The shoe company gave money to my AAU coach and not me, go ask him what happened to it.
Unfortunately, this sort of defensive turtling generally plays into the NCAA’s hands, and in two related ways. First, it implicitly accepts that there’s something wrong about talented people being able to freely cash in on their talents when those people play college sports — a deeply un-American notion that isn’t applied to anyone else on campus, including coaches, athletic administrators or even members of student bands.
Second, it allows the NCAA to occupy an ersatz moral high ground, pretending that a handful of bad apple schools and athletes are failing in a perfectly just system, instead of the other way around.