SPORTS TALK: Horror on the hardwood

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While most people observing the sports world were worrying about who as standing and who was kneeling during the national anthem, something very bad was happening in the world of NCAA basketball.

On September 26, the results of an FBI investigation into corruption involving payments to superstar talent in NCAA basketball were revealed, leading to the indictment of 10 people, including current assistant basketball coaches at four different universities.

On September 27, the athletic director at Louisville was fired and the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave, which many people are saying is just the first step in what will ultimately lead to his firing.

The entire mess reads like an organized crime novel. It involves payments to players coming from agents and shoe companies in order to get them to attend certain schools and then sign with those same people when they leave school to go to the NBA. It seems college basketball’s culture of “one-and-done” players has contributed greatly to the problem as players spend just one season in college before heading off to the NBA where they get lucrative contracts that then pay off for the people who invested in them.

Corruption is college sports is nothing new. Remember when the NCAA killed the SMU football program? Or how about when Kentucky got caught sending a box of money to Chris Mill’s father? Yeah, it happens, and I think we all know this. But who realized it happened at such a large, systemic scale? According to the reports I’ve read, this could all just be the tip of the iceberg that leads to the revelation that more than just the four schools who were named in the indictment are guilty of bribing players and their families.

It seems to me the problem here is the way basketball in general works. I wonder if there was as much of an issue when players could go directly from high school to the NBA? The fact that the NBA forces guys who just want to play basketball to do something else for a year after they’ve graduated from high school seems pretty silly to me.

Most of these kids aren’t interested in getting a college eduction. They just want to play basketball and get paid for doing it. So, why not let them do just that? The NBA could stop all this by drafting players out of high school and sending them to the D-League, if they feel they are not ready for the rigors of the NBA. Instead they use the NCAA as their farm system, much as the NFL does in football, which leads to corruption as programs try and get that one-year superstar who can carry them to a championship.

Until the NBA changes, I doubt things will change in the NCAA. No matter how many people get indicted or how many coaches get fired, the desire to win is too strong and the shortcuts are far too easy to take.

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