Friday, September 29, 2017

The College Basketball Mess

Among the defenses that do not work with law enforcement is "everyone does it." 

Among the mantras of law enforcement when it comes to investigations is "you must keep on look under rocks until there are no more rocks to look under." 

Given that there are a lot of rocks, a lot of people who will be willing to point out those rocks in exchange for a deal and the amount of money paid to college coaches to sustain winning and the amount of monies that college athletic departments get for shoe endorsements, you have a cocktail of ingredients that is easily combustible and can shout out "scandal" all by itself.

Using a different analogy, the four indicted assistant coaches are the first four dominoes to fall.  Because the schools where they worked recruited against many other big-time schools, other dominoes sit close enough to them that they can fall, too.  Not just assistant coaches and shoe company reps, but also AAU coaches and, yes, head college coaches. 

College sports used to be an extracurricular activity along the lines of the chorus, the newspaper and the debating club.  Those college sports that derive significant revenue can be important to universities athletic budgets.  I say "can be" because I recently read an article that indicated that more than 80% of Division I football programs lose money (defeating the argument that the football programs at many schools fund the other athletic teams).  Regardless of profitability (which is problematic because the universities themselves are tax-exempt organizations), the football and basketball programs can generate significant revenue for the university.  As a result, those who lead them command significant salaries.  The dollars are so big that it makes you wonder what the purpose of the head coach is -- to mold young men, to make money for the university or to perpetuate himself in his job (regardless of tactics and whether he really molds young men) in order to keep earning staggering sums of money.  The more that money is involved, the greater potential for all sorts of problems.

This scandal should (and I emphasize should) enable university boards and presidents to take full control over the mission of the university and not be held hostage by popular coaches or win-at-all-costs-hungry boosters.  This scandal should end the horrible paternalism of the professional leagues and create avenues for talented teenagers to go professional the way they do in soccer globally.  Right now, the best player in the U.S. is a 19 year-old who stars -- yes, stars -- in Germany.  His name is Christian Pulisic and he is very, very good.  He comes from Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Why can't it be that a top high schooler from Baltimore cannot sign with the 76ers out of high school, play on their G-League team and then have a professional career?  If you do this, you'll take out of the college game kids who really only want to play basketball and stop the charade of making them go to college.  I know I have thrown out many concepts here, but something significant is plaguing college sports. 

Money, the wanting for it by those who either make a lot of it or are on the cusp of doing so or the lack of it for those who need it (the kids whose families don't have it and who play before packed arenas and don't get paid for it).  The recent enforcement of labor law rules regarding internships helps frame the issue.  A kid who is an intern either must get college credit or get paid; he may not work for free.  College athletes in revenue-generating sports (profitable or not) don't get college credit and don't get paid.  Yet, their coaches get paid in the top 0.5% of all earners in the United States.  Something is awry, and it's sad that the universities haven't been able to address this issue themselves.  Now the Federal government will, and in the form of deferred prosecution agreements or corporate integrity agreements or both. 

And that is only after they get done with what promises to be a long and widespread investigation.  I forget who said this, but it rings true -- "No head coach of a major college football or basketball program is resting easily now."

Stay tuned.