The Federal Bureau of Investigation is going to change the landscape of College Basketball as we know it. Working in tandem with the NCAA, the FBI has been slowly building their case against some of the top programs in the country to uncover a world of scandal and corruption that most fans may have been aware of but were unwilling to admit the existence of. Much like when Neo takes the red pill to awake from the fabricated life of the Matrix, fans can no longer plead ignorance to the dark side of College Basketball. This week reporting by Yahoo Sports and ESPN has started to pull back the curtain on the breadth and depth of this investigation and just how far reaching it’s implications might be. On Friday Yahoo broke the news that the FBI had documentation implicating 25 players and 20 programs with illegal payments between ASM Sports, a sports agency, and various current and former college basketball players. Then later in the day ESPN reported that Arizona Wildcat Coach Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for current player Deandre Ayton.
With so much still up in the air and the other shoe yet to drop it can be hard to understand exactly is going to happen to the players, coaches and schools implicated by this investigation. To help here are the ABCs of this NCAA scandal so you know how worried you need to be about your teams future:
The lowest rung of the scandal ladder is players taking money from third party companies without any participation of the university. To date we only know of one company (ASM Sports) partaking in this activity but it boils down to a company giving money to an amateur athlete as a sorts of verbal commitment for that athlete to then sign with/do business with the company once he becomes a professional athlete. A broke player in college takes a several thousand dollar loan from a company for some spending money and now is technically no longer an amateur athlete by NCAA guidelines. This is where the trouble starts. For players no longer in school the NCAA has little to no power as they can only retroactively take away wins from a program. For players still in school the NCAA has the to decide whether or not to make players ineligible for the rest of the season, or the next season, etc. Beyond past and present players losing eligibility the only way this infraction leads to more serious ones is if the NCAA wants to punish a college or coach for gross negligence or lack of oversight for multiple players receiving payments or benefits from a third party. There is a relatively small chance of this however. If a player on your team has or is receiving loans they shouldn’t be – at the worst some wins will be vacated or a player will be sit out for several games.
Drop the Bag – is a popular euphemism for the cash exchange that happens to secure the commitment of a high school athlete to go to a specific college. While to our knowledge there is not an actual movie-like ransom sequence where a duffle bag full of cash is inconspicuously left and picked up by another, money is still exchanging hands illegally. We are now a rung up the scandal ladder because the school is now involved in the proceedings whether explicitly or not. Through an assistant coach, recruiting coordinator, boosters member or whoever else, there is a coordinated effort to deliver a chunk of change to a player in exchange for that players commitment. For current players caught they will likely lose their eligibility and past players will lead to more vacated wins. The involvement of school officials however will force the NCAA’s hand to fine a university, fire any persons involved and take away future scholarships from guilty universities. These persons could also be charged by the FBI for bribery and fraud, as a few assistant coaches already have been.
Coaches Cutting Checks
When a player takes money, he is usually in and out before the NCAA can do much of anything. When a school official breaks NCAA regulations they can be pawned off as a “bad egg” or someone acting on their own agenda. But when a college coach is caught on an FBI wiretap implicating himself, there isn’t much buck passing that can happen. If (and when) more coaches are caught in a similar situation to Miller, they will get the highest level of punishment from the NCAA. For instance Sean will lose his job, he may never be allowed to coach again, Arizona will lose scholarships moving forward, and likely being ineligible for the NCAA tournament for a period of time. Sound bad? That’s because it is, and the Sean Miller phone call is apparently only one in the 3,000 hours of intercepted phone conversations the FBI has collected during this investigation.
So what now?
The FBI hasn’t even played their hand yet. All the information we have on this subject is from reports and leaked information, meaning the entire landscape could really shift when the FBI brings down the hammer with jail time. The question now becomes when instead of if. When will the FBI bring forward their list of charges? When will the NCAA lay down their sanctions and punishments? As we inch closer to Selection Sunday and March Madness without any official verdicts there is an increasing chance that 68 teams will be playing for a title to be vacated shortly afterward.