For the second consecutive week, Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel delivered a story chronicling just how widespread the corruption in NCAA college basketball really is. Two weeks back, in tracking the fallout from an FBI probe that netted 10 arrests back in September relating to agents and coaches arranging payments for players, Thamel wrote: “The breadth of potential NCAA rules violations uncovered is wide enough to fundamentally and indelibly alter the sport of college basketball.”
That story was short on concrete specifics, but the follow-up — authored by Thamel and Pat Forde — that went live Friday named names and teams ensnared in payments and/or improper benefits, including former North Carolina State star Dennis Smith, 2017 NBA No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and Michigan State star Miles Bridges. In all, per the report, “the documents show an underground recruiting operation that could create NCAA rules issues — both current and retroactive — for at least 20 Division I basketball programs and more than 25 players.”
Based on how slowly these proceedings tend to move, and since the rich and powerful tend to protect the rich and powerful, it seems unlikely any of this will interrupt this year’s March Madness. In the short-term, though, it did creep into my consciousness whenever coming across college basketball on the TV over the weekend. Will the tournament ultimately matter? Does any game leading up to it matter? Mock brackets are already showing up online, with “FBI” slotted into each spot.
Still, the bigger takeaway is this:
A case as widespread as this is not about players getting money. It’s about a broken system in which corruption is the norm. The NCAA has a history of punishing schools under the umbrella of “lack of institutional control.” The argument there often goes like this: Either a school knew rules were being broken and looked the other way (or actively covered them up), or the violation was so egregious and widespread that leaders should have known about it even if they claim they didn’t.
So what happens when the entire system is out of control? Well, it sure seems like the same argument could be made here about the entire NCAA — that either leaders at the top knew about a system of corruption that included at least 20 schools (and quite likely more), or they should have known.
NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement Friday that begins, “These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America.” He pointed to an independent commission formed after last fall’s indictments as an indication that the NCAA is “committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity.”
Even if we take that at face value, it’s not enough. What incentive do the millionaires at the top of the NCAA food chain have to change? And why should a governing body that oversaw this level of corruption be allowed to punish schools without itself being punished?
Those will be questions that need answering as this investigation advances.