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NCAA Sports: Sorting Through the Finger-Pointing

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"I know you be cheatin' out there!"
"I know you be cheatin' out there!"

One thing I've found this year is that the finger-pointing in college basketball has become a lot worse recently.  Perhaps that is a good thing -- if teams are breaking the rules, it's high time they got exposed and punished for it.

Mike Miller at Beyond the Arc had an article related to this issue the other day, in which he points us to this article at USA Today.  In it, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney drops this bomb:

In basketball, he maintains the NCAA still has a long way to go. "There is a loss of confidence among many coaches that the rules are being complied with. The best way I can describe it is a sense of cynicism," he says.

"I'm talking about the corruption of the youth basketball program, the money that's used to influence recruiting. And ultimately the buying of players, either through third parties or through coaches or coaches and third parties — agents. I can't tell you if it's three institutions or whether it's 15. But make no mistake about it; it's happening.. .. It's a corruption issue."

I have absolutely no doubt that there is some corruption in college basketball.  Look, one truism we can all count on is that where there is a large amount of money at stake, namely the millions of dollars that professional basketball players get paid by professional sports teams, apparel companies and sports drink makers, there are going to be third parties trying to get their hands on some of that money, whether they can actually offer value in return for it or not.  There is also the fact that some of the "value" being offered runs afoul of NCAA legislation.

But with that said, when I see a conference commissioner complaining about this problem, you can bank on the fact that he is talking about the other guys, not his guys.  In other words, what we are seeing here is the Big Ten pointing their fingers at everybody else.

With all due respect to Mr. Delaney, I am sick and tired of the piety spewing forth from the Big Ten.  It seems to me that lately, we have heard all sorts of claims about how pure the Big Ten is, and accusations of evil everyone else must be.  That's beginning to grate on my nerves.

What annoys me about this particular utterance is not the truth or untruth of it -- I'll give Delaney the benefit of the doubt in that I'm sure he believes that players are being bought, even if I suspect he is not as clued in to the subject as many would think.  So why make a public comment like that?

More than anything, I think Delaney is shilling for what a great conference the Big Ten is with an eye on even more expansion.  I don't think things went the way he wanted this summer, and I think this comment ultimately has almost nothing to do with the very real problems facing college basketball and everything to do about promoting Jim Delaney and the Big Ten.  This statement simply reeks of piety and self-aggrandizement, two characteristics I have come to associate with Delaney.

As previously discussed, college basketball is always going to be a target for sports-related enterprises trying to make money or get into some kind of symbiotic relationship with a player and siphon off some of his NBA and apparel-dollar millions.  The agents and apparel companies are everywhere, trying to arrange affairs so that they are in a position to benefit from the next John Wall.  Is money changing hands here?  Absolutely.  Reggie and OJ proved that, as if proof was needed.

But not only is the timing suspicious in the wake of the Chicago Sun-Times absurd allegations that Kentucky "bought" Anthony Davis for $200,000, it is my considered opinion that this sort of thing rarely, if ever, happens in college basketball these days.  Lou Holtz, although hardly the Mother Theresa of NCAA compliance, had this to say to The Big Lead:

Q: So you really think many of the elite programs are clean?

A: I definitely do. I really feel that way in the bottom of my heart. I do not believe you can buy an athlete today and get away with it. Wherever there’s been any problems in college athletics in recent years, it’s not been because of money, unless the money came from an agent … an agent cannot help an athlete. He can’t do anything. What they try to do is get that athlete indebted to them by buying them [stuff] or by giving them spending money. They feel they can make a lot of money if they can get that [player to sign with them]. And these individuals don’t have a lot of money [when they are in college] and they take it innocently. ‘Well, it’s just a meal’ and then ‘it’s just $10′ and so on.

I actually think Holtz is more right than wrong about this.  Consider the allegations against OJ Mayo and Reggie Bush.  Nowhere will you find a claim that the school or its alumni/boosters/William Wesley (you have to throw his name in there to satisfy the corruption police who think WW is the root of all evil) forked over a huge wad of dead presidents to purchase their services.

As Holtz points out, the corruption these days is much more likely to be between the agent and the athlete.  That isn't to say schools are clean of all NCAA rules violations -- not by a long shot.  Is it possible that colleges are involved with agents in "horse trading," as Gary Parrish suggested the other day, or in other nefarious ways like ignoring known violations in hopes of landing an athlete?  Definitely.

Rick Bozich applauds Delaney in an article he wrote the other day, and added this nugget:

Coaches know, but they're reluctant to speak, especially on the record. If word gets back to the wrong AAU program or agent that they are working with the NCAA, they'd better start looking elsewhere for recruits.

The coaches did speak on the record, albeit anonymously, in this article by Dana O'Neil of ESPN.  The conclusion?

Here's the silver lining for college basketball: Virtually every coach thinks that the majority of Division I programs are not intentionally breaking major rules. Of the 20, only four said 25 percent or more of the programs were, in the words of one coach, "committing felonies.''

So this corruption, according to the perception of a majority of coaches surveyed (which Bozich apparently values very much) is limited mostly to involuntary or minor infractions.  You can't unintentionally "buy" a player -- it's pretty much a premeditated, overt act of disregard for the rules.

But Delaney isn't talking misdemeanors here -- he's accusing schools, ostensibly in conferences other than the Big Ten, of paying money to basketball players to get them to come to school there.  I ask you to go look in the NCAA infractions database and see how many recent allegations of cash payments to recruits or their families you can find.  Wait -- there is one -- Ohio State in 1999 (the report is dated 2005-06).

Maybe Delaney does know what he's talking about, after all.