NEW YORK – Tom Izzo hears about cheating but has a reputation for being as clean as it gets. The Hall of Fame coach despises the scandals that have dirtied college basketball and high school recruiting. But he also doesn’t rat out other coaches.
Miles Bridges says he did not accept money to play for other coaches and schools, instead choosing Izzo and Michigan State out of high school.
Two of the highest-profile figures in the Big Ten spent time at media day Thursday at Madison Square Garden addressing the major scandal that rocked the college basketball world this fall and still hangs like a dark cloud over the start of the 2017-18 season.
An FBI probe exposed corruption that exists between some college basketball leaders, shoe companies and other figures.
Assistants from Arizona, Southern California, Oklahoma State and Auburn were arrested and have been appearing in court over the past month. Head coaches have been subpoenaed for information — including former Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who was fired after an assistant allegedly paid a recruit $100,000 to sign with the Cardinals this year.
“I knew a lot about some things,” Izzo said about cheating in the game, “but I never knew everything.”
High-profile recruits across the country such as Bridges are faced with the temptation of taking extra benefits that would cost them their eligibility and penalize programs for major rules violations.
Some never get caught.
Bridges, the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year, said he never let money influence his college choice, just as he didn’t let money persuade him to return to the Spartans for his sophomore year.
“My mom always told me to do the right thing no matter what,” Bridges said. “She’s not living in a good environment right now and me taking money [out of high school] could’ve helped her. But at the end of the day, she always told me to do the right thing. I feel like that really helped me in my life. Now I don’t have anything to worry about with this situation.”
Izzo landed his second consecutive McDonald’s All-American with five-star forward Jaren Jackson Jr., who was picked by the media to follow Bridges’ path as Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But Izzo said he has also lost his fair share of top talent to programs where he wondered if they did things the right way.
“You have an idea what’s going on,” Izzo said.
Some coaches would turn in their counterparts for cheating. Izzo is not in that camp. But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery admitted recently that he has done that in the past.
“I still think it’s a fabulous game,” McCaffery said. “So many unbelievably great things about it. Yeah, there are some people who are cutting corners. They need to be in a situation where they’re held accountable for those decisions. If there’s a penalty, then there’s a penalty. There are legitimate entities that are trying to make sure our game is clean and pure. It’s what I want.”
In consecutive days earlier this month, the NCAA and Pac-12 Conference put together task forces to look into the problems the FBI uncovered in college basketball recruiting.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said Thursday that the conference hasn’t been in contact with the FBI. But Delany encouraged his coaches to talk with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who is part of the NCAA’s commission to study corruption in the game.
“I think internally we’ll have some discussions and pass on our recommendations to the commission,” Delany said. “There is an NCAA side to this, a federal government side, and there is also a value side to this. So I think we have to be very honest, once we know what’s going on, to address it the best we can.
“I don’t have a list of five reforms I’d like to see. But I do think it starts with abiding by the rules that we all agree to.”