clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

College Basketball Faces Scandal And Existential Crisis

The scandal unveiled Tuesday is going to sweep through college hoops like a pandemic.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Dirty dollar bill.
The FBI is following dirty money through college basketball and where it ends up won’t be comforting.
Andrea Melendez-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t really blame Kevin Keatts for not wanting to talk about it. He did work for Rick Pitino but right now Pitino is radioactive and no one wants to be associated with him at this point. Plus he was probably pretty busy Tuesday and we’re guessing he wasn’t taking a lot of calls.

Keatts worked for Pitino from 2011-2014 when he took the Wilmington job. He was there during the scandal involving a hooker who was hired to help recruit players. Pitino denied knowledge of those events as did Keatts.

Keatts largely got a pass because he was an assistant and no longer at Louisville and nothing directly tied him to it.

He is under more scrutiny now because the scandal that erupted Tuesday has implicated Adidas schools, which NC State is, and because like Louisville, State was also in it with Brian Bowen.

After a meandering and strange recruitment, Bowen surprised everyone by picking Louisville over several other (mostly Adidas) schools. State had a shot at one point but faded. Good for the Pack now but given what we learned Tuesday, it’s reasonable to ask: why was Bowen considering State in the first place?

The rough outline of the scandal is this: money goes to the player (we expect from Adidas but it could be other parties as well) and his family to steer them to a particular school. The assistant coaches then get kickbacks to steer the players to certain financial advisers and shoe companies.

There are a number of charges involved including money laundering, wire fraud, bribery and tax evasion. The people who stand charged now include assistant coaches from Louisville, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal and Arizona, Adidas executive Jim Gatto and financial planners and agents.

Since this just broke Tuesday, no one has publicly been flipped, but the Arizona Daily Star says that assistant Book Richardson faces 60 years in prison.

If that’s what people are looking at, the FBI is going to flip several. You can be sure several guys are up late tonight considering their options and the longer they wait, the less valuable they will be. They’ll flip quickly to get the best deal possible.

And while the prosecution is focused on the currently indicted, our bet is that most of the families that took money didn’t declare it on their 1040s so the families - and potentially some NBA players - could be indicted for tax evasion.

McDonald’s won't flip burgers that fast.

The problem of course is money, or rather, the effort to deny it.

Money flows through every level of basketball and the idea of amateurism is at this point just ludicrous. The NCAA tries to deny it and to keep it out but as the Egyptians say, you might as well drink the ocean. If it was ever possible, it’s not now.

When he was at Hawaii, Pitino got in trouble for a round-trip ticket for a player between New York and Honolulu, setting up players with used cars for season tickets, and giving out coupons to players for free food at McDonald's.

Isn’t that unbelievably innocent? McDonald’s coupons?

That was then and this is now. Sixteen-year-old Melo Ball is driving a Lamborghini and has his own designer shoe. Obviously his brother can buy the car for him but that just underscores the vast amounts of money flowing through the sport. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain ended their careers with $100,000 dollar contracts.

Now the Louisville paper is calling for Pitino and his A.D. Tom Jurich to be fired.

Now Miami has a cloud. Now Sean Miller has to answer difficult questions at Arizona. Bruce Pearl, who is lucky to be working again after his issues at Tennessee, will be very fortunate to survive at Auburn. USC’s Andy Enfield is bound to be nervous.

But they’re not the only guys, not by a long shot.

In an important but little understood development, one of the men indicted Tuesday is named Merl Code, and Code is going to prove to be the key to this whole thing.

Code worked at Nike before Adidas and he knows where the Nike bodies are buried and that will open things up profoundly.

The one good thing that could come out of this is that the NCAA could finally just face reality about the money in revenue sports. The idea of amateurism is nice in a way but it’s a product of the 19th and 20th century when you had to have the money and leisure it took to be an amateur. You really had to be rich to be an amateur then.

Now? Things have changed and most of the athletes we celebrate don’t come from wealthy families.

It’s rational to want to benefit from your talents. Who doesn’t?

None of that negates what education can do for someone, particularly someone who has no easy path towards college. Kyrie Irving didn’t need to go to Duke; his buddy Josh Hairston probably did and a Duke degree with no debt is going to work for him his entire life.

This is a turning point for the NCAA and college sports. After the crisis is over it’s time to sit down and overhaul the entire enterprise.

In that sense, as awful as all of this is, as traumatic as it’s going to be for a lot of people, it’s an opportunity too. It’s a chance to make things more honest and rational and that’s long overdue.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
Check out our new T-shirt!| Drop us a line