Pearls & Vodka

The “Madness” Goes Further than March

On Tuesday of this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the indictment of four assistant college basketball coaches. The charges were brought up due to alleged involvement in illegal schemes involving fraud and corruption. The schemes not only involved the coaches, but also representatives of a sportswear company, managers, and financial advisors. The basic explanation for the alleged conduct involving the coaches is that three managers/financial advisors bribed the 4 assistant coaches with cash payments to put pressure on players and their families to sign with them. That’s a very simplistic look at some very wrong actions. The sportswear company becomes involved when they allegedly gave some NCAA Division I colleges sponsorship deals in exchange for players being given scholarships who would then commit to the accused financial advisors who were paying the coaches to do so.

The four assistant coaches involved are Lamont Evans, from Oklahoma State, but who was formerly at the University of South Carolina where he is accused of being involved as well, Emanuel Richardson, from Arizona, Anthony Bland, from USC, and Chuck Pearson, from Auburn University. The charges range from wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit bribery, and solicitation of bribes and gratuities. The accusations go even further to affect Louisville University, a perennial powerhouse basketball school. The complaints allege that employees of Adidas funneled $100,000 to a player only being identified as “Player-10,” though many are speculating that is McDonald’s All-American Brian Bowen who committed to Louisville in June. The University of Miami is also being accused of involvement with payments to a player in the class of 2018 as well. The FBI announced that they do not believe the NCAA itself was actually involved. [1]

Since the shocking announcement yesterday, the news shook the college basketball world even further today as longtime coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were all but fired. They were placed on unpaid administrative leave, but all reports say, they are as good as done. Pitino, the father of 6, and longtime college basketball coach has been a staple at NCAA tournaments and championship games. Most recently, the Louisville Cardinals won the National Championship in 2013. Coach Pitino’s head coaching record is 770-269 (.741). His accomplishments and honors should have marked the career of a hall of fame coach. Unfortunately for Pitino, this is not the first time he has found himself in trouble. In 2009, he admitted to having engaged in sexual relations with a woman, other than his wife, who then attempted to extort money from him for an alleged abortion. [2] In 2015, it was also alleged by a former escort that she was involved in dancing at parties for Louisville recruits, paid for by a graduate assistant. [3]

Ironically, Coach Pitino wrote a book called, Success is a Choice. [4]

With the latest revelations of crimes committed on Coach Pitino’s watch at Louisville, it appears he himself has made some choices that will diminish his success as a basketball coach.

My good friend, and coworker, Karen asked me today, “what is happening in the world of sports?”

And the question is a valid one with the recent NFL protests and now the announcement of this latest scandal in college basketball.

I grew up playing basketball.

I love the sport. I love watching it. I love playing it. I love talking about it. I love reading about it. I still remember being obsessed with the “Dream Team” when they played in the Olympics. I will still argue that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, don’t come at me with your Lebron is better noise! I’ve been a Chicago Bulls fan for as long as I can remember. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing in the world that Scottie Pippen went to college a few hours from where I grew up. And I smile every time I drive by Michael Jordan’s old high school in my new hometown. I grew up an Arkansas Razorback fan. Our glory days in 1994 when Scotty Thurman hit the three-pointer with 50.7 seconds left in the National Championship game are some of my favorite childhood memories with my Dad. My parents bought me every ounce of memorabilia from that championship that existed. I love March Madness. I have 3-5 brackets every year. I’ve lost more money during those few weeks than I care to recall. I will still argue that college basketball is way better than the NBA. I thought Coach Pat Summitt hung the moon at the University of Tennessee and I still mourn her passing.

But after all these years since my Hogs won a National Championship, it seems that the purity of intercollegiate athletics, specifically my beloved basketball, is gone.

Year after year now, it seems the scandals just keep rolling in.

In 2009, it was determined that Derrick Rose had failed the ACT three times and had someone else take the test for him in a different city; causing Memphis to be sanctioned with a three-year probation. In the late 90s, it was the Minnesota Gophers and their academic fraud; where one adviser wrote more than 400 papers for 20 players and was paid to do so. In the 1998 Final Four, it was revealed that Northwestern had players charged with fixing three games in the 94’-95’ season. Boston College was guilty of a betting scheme that led to point-shaving in the 78’-79’ season. St. Bonaventure was found guilty of having a transfer student play for them who had received a welding certificate from a community college in 2003. Also in 2003, Georgia was found guilty of the coach’s son giving falsified grades to some players. Tulane was involved in a scandal that involved gambling, drugs, and thousands of dollars in 1985. Chris Webber, a member of the Michigan “Fab Five,” was paid significant amounts of money during his time in Ann Arbor by a booster. Even back in the 1950s, there were 7 schools involved in a point-shaving scandal. And finally, one of the most horrific scandals to rock college basketball, happened in Waco, Texas, at Baylor University. Carlton Dotson, a Baylor transfer player, killed his teammate/roommate Patrick Dennehy. There were, unfortunately, a lot more revelations of wrongdoing at Baylor when the investigation unfolded as well. [5]

What happened to college basketball?

The reality is that back in the day, college basketball was not the multibillion-dollar business that it is today.

Sure, the NCAA has tried to take steps to prevent these scandals and “weed out” the bad guys. But at the end of the day, schools love to win. Winning equals major revenue bumps for these universities who see up and down years financially.

But, at the beginning of college basketball, no one was getting rich.

They were paying their dues, working hard, putting in the time to eventually, hopefully, make it to the NBA as a coach or a player.

As time went on though, these broadcasting networks started paying more and more money to show these games and the money started rolling in. The NCAA has cashed in heavily on college basketball season, there are multiple games every week and the March Madness tournament itself is pure mayhem and earns an enormous income for the division. These college players, many struggling with the lack of time to work or earn money like their fellow students, began to seek out ways to make money, or ways to stay on the court when they couldn’t hang in the classroom. And unfortunately, these 18 and 19-year-olds were taken advantage of a lot of times by men, much older, who were asked to be their leaders and father-figures. A form of a “black market” honestly has emerged and is branded on the NCAA. These coaches, these universities, these boosters, these television networks, these apparel brands, these video game companies, are all getting rich off of these young players.
There’s no surprise to me that we are seeing scandals so frequently in the sport.

These young men are basically being whored out and masked as “players” for their respective universities. They wear the names of their schools on the FRONT of their jerseys, while sometimes their own last names aren’t even on the back of their jerseys, and are given free rides to college for these coaches to make millions and millions of dollars off of their talent.
Rick Pitino was the highest-paid coach in college basketball until today. With his most recent scandal emerging, he stands to lose $55 million in remaining salary for his contract that was not to expire until 2026. He was making just under $8 million dollars per season. That’s crazy money to stand on a sideline, call plays, huddle a team together and draw up a scheme.
Right, wrong, or indifferent, these young men, many of whom are trying to make a living for their families, see these “coaches” getting rich off of them and make poor choices. That doesn’t seem like a shocking fact to me. A lot of these guys come from nothing, living in poverty their whole lives, the idea that they could make some money by playing the game they love doesn’t seem all that ludicrous.

The problem is, it is wrong. And no matter their upbringing, or current situations, that does not justify their actions.

And the even bigger problem is, the men who are charged with guiding them through their collegiate playing careers are the same ones not teaching them right from wrong. Their coaches are the ones who are not showing them how to do things the right way.

I place 100% of the blame on the coaches in the NCAA when news breaks like yesterday’s scandal.

And the unfortunate thing for the coaches who do the right thing is the news of the bad coaches plays so much louder.

I have a little boy that per the alleged speculation of height at the pediatrician could be well over 6’5”. He loves sports, all sports. And he’s got a good arm and a lot of speed for a 21-month-old. My husband and I’ve agreed we won’t pressure him into sports, probably a harder feat for me than Arron. But we want him to choose his own path. If his path was being chosen today, he’d want to sign up for every sports team imaginable I can assure you. But we’ll see what the future holds.

So how do we as parents prepare him for the world of sports if he so chooses that route?

How do we as parents teach our kids to play the game, whatever game they pick, for the right reasons?

How do we teach them sportsmanship, but competitiveness?

How do we teach them to always follow the rules, not just so you won’t get called for a foul, but because it’s always the right decision?

It’s a fine line to walk.

We as parents go crazy in the stands of football games and gyms of basketball games day in and day out, cheering for our children to be the very best they can be. And maybe they have struggles we don’t see. Maybe they can’t keep up in a class and that fear of being kicked off a team and disappointing us as parents leads them down the path to get a little “boost” from someone who can whip out a paper faster than them. Maybe they know we are struggling financially at home and they see a way to make some extra money to help out. Maybe they get caught up in something they never meant to be involved in and are too scared to ask for help, so they go deeper and deeper in.

The truth is, at their core, most kids don’t mean to end up in trouble.

Sure, there’s a bad apple in every bushel. But these kids need parents who will stand up for them, who will teach them right from wrong, who will love them unconditionally, who will encourage them to make wise decisions while they pursue their dreams, and will give everything they can to make sure they are protected and growing and learning as they go. These kids don’t need an agent, or financial advisor, or coach even, who talks to them constantly about the money they can make. They need adults around them who are asking how their lives are going, how can they help them to make better choices to improve their situations and what tools can they teach them to do things correctly.

If we want to see a change in the college basketball world, we have to stop rewarding those who do things for money and we have to stop teaching kids that the game itself is less important than the paycheck they could make.

[2] Crawford, Eric (April 18, 2009). “Pitino says he is target of extortion attempt”. The Courier-Journal. Retrieved April 19,2009.

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash