College basketball’s FBI scandal is now more than a week old, but even roughly 10 days or so after the news broke this still remains the biggest story in college sports right now. Frankly, I don’t think there is a close second. Take a handful of the sport’s biggest programs, a major sneaker company, hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands, the FBI and very real possibility of more to come, and we’ve got a real life soap opera on our hands. It’s like Blue Chips meets General Hospital, with a little Law & Order mixed in.
Yet what is truly insane about this scandal is that there is no end in sight. Unlike the typical NCAA case which goes through a pretty standard cycle, with a resolution set after a certain amount of time (except at North Carolina, where their academic probe is going on roughly 47 years now) there’s no end in sight here. There’s also no telling how many schools, programs and coaches could be ensnared when it’s all said and done.
Therefore, I figured it would be a good time to get everyone caught up on where things stand. I know most folks don’t have time to sit around and follow every little detail of this case.
But you do have a lot of questions. And after talking with all sorts of people over the last week, here are my best answers to the biggest questions:
No, Louisville isn’t getting the death penalty:
Obviously any conversation about this case has to start with Louisville. And while the death penalty was absolutely in play for the Cards early – I believe I was actually the first person, at any point to suggest it – it isn’t in play here. For any fan hoping the NCAA brings the hammer on the Cards, it just ain’t happening.
The simple truth is that the death penalty was only put into the rulebook as a way for the NCAA to police schools that couldn’t police themselves. And when this news first broke, Louisville was a textbook case of exactly that. I mean seriously, how do you get busted paying for players when you’re already on probation? That’s the college basketball equivalent of “How do you get fired on your day off” from the movie Friday. You’ve got to be really dumb to not only attempt it, but then get caught doing it.
Only that’s exactly what Louisville did.
But since then, Louisville has taken what is really the only step necessary to make sure they don’t get the death penalty: They fired Rick Pitino. In essence that was Louisville’s way of saying to the NCAA “mannnnnnnnn, we really screwed up on this one. And we’re ready to start getting things cleaned up” (assuming of course you believe that any of college basketball can be “cleaned up”).
And really, that’s all the NCAA really wanted to see. Remember, the NCAA doesn’t actually want to hand out the death penalty, it’s too costly for too many entities (the city of Louisville, the ACC, TV partners). They will only hand it out when they absolutely have to, when the school leaves them no choice.
But – to use a really bad pun – Louisville used their “get out of jail free” card here. They got rid of Pitino to save the program. And it worked.
What the hell is the NCAA going to do?
So that’s the small picture with Louisville, and now to the big picture of it all. To which I ask: What the hell is the NCAA going to do with all this? It’s something that no one really has a good answer to right now.
That’s because while it’s clear NCAA violations occurred – egregious, crazy, overwhelming ones – this whole situation is, in a lot of ways, out of the NCAA’s jurisdiction. Remember, that even in cases where violations fall right into the NCAA’s lap (like Reggie Bush and USC or Miami and Nevin Shapiro) they generally then take that information and use it as outline for its own investigations. And those investigations can take up to years to get resolutions to. Like the North Carolina academic probe for example. Or even worse, Ole Miss football. Seriously, Ole Miss had a player (Laremy Tunsil) admit on national television during the NFL draft that he accepted money to play football at Ole Miss. That seems like a pretty standard admission of guilt, and a situation where you don’t need a lot of legal BS bureaucracy to throw the book at Ole Miss. Only guess what: THE NCAA STILL HASN’T HIT OLE MISS WITH NCAA PENALTIES!!!! How does that happen?
At the same time that’s also why it feels like the NCAA could drag their feet here. Even though it’s obvious that violations happened, most of the information the FBI has was obtained through wiretaps and recorded conversations. Does the NCAA use that information as their own? Do they try to verify it? Do they wait for the court cases to conclude? And do they even attempt to do their own investigations, knowing that they won’t get nearly the same information the FBI already has?
Therefore, as hectic as things are within the walls of college basketball programs right now, they feel equally insane within the NCAA. What is their next move?
And while we’re waiting on that move, it impacts a number of things. We’ll leave aside real life stuff like “jail time” and focus on what matters to college basketball fans. Starting with:
NCAA Tournament bans
Obviously the biggest factor in any NCAA investigation would be potential bans, but I just don’t see it happening this year. Ultimately, until the NCAA knows exactly what schools did exactly what wrong, it seems entirely too haphazard to just start throwing around tournament bans. There are literally billions at stake for the NCAA and their TV partners and it seems entirely unlikely that they’re going to tinker with the tournament until they get all their ducks in a row.
Therefore, it feels like this year’s NCAA Tournament is safe, and expect Arizona, USC, Louisville, Miami and maybe Auburn to be dancing. But in 2018-2019? That’s anyone’s guess.
This one will be interesting to me. Because while the NCAA might not move quickly, the one thing that we know about most schools in cases like this is that they’re always proactive. If there’s even a hint of NCAA trouble, they pull players out of practice and games. The last thing that they want to do is play guys who have committed NCAA violations, which could cost them games down the line. Therefore, will any schools actively involved in this case pull players who are believed to be implicated by the FBI, and therefore have in turn broken NCAA rules?
Normally that’d be a cut and dried “yes” but because this is the craziest case ever, there is a crazy sub-plot no one is talking about: Are we sure any player actually accepted money? According to the FBI, the only players that we know for certain were paid are Louisville’s Brian Bowen and Arizona recruit Jahvon Quinerly. That’s it. Yes, we know money changed hands from agents to coaches. But we’re not certain that money actually made it to any of the players other than those two.
It’s a fascinating web that I’m pretty sure is making compliance offices across America pull their hair out, and families across the country sweat. At the same time, as best I can tell, not a single player at any school except Bowen has been pulled out of practice, nor have any player suspensions been announced.
This is something worth monitoring going forward however.
Everyone on the USC basketball roster participated in practice today.
— Zach Helfand (@zhelfand) October 3, 2017
What does it mean for recruiting?
We’ve already seen the fallout at Louisville, where a Top 5 class fell apart and five-star prospects Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey are both back on the market. And we’re seeing a trickle-down effect everywhere else. Shareef O’Neal’s recruitment appears to be on the verge of opening back up, and Bol Bol – once a heavy Arizona lean – now seems to wide open. The Wildcats also have had several players cancel visits including R.J. Barrett and Simi Shittu.
Point being, what was once a great Arizona class is on the cusp of dissolving completely. We know O’Neal is at least reconsidering, and you’ve got to wonder if Quinerly will ever play a second of college basketball since it’s pretty obvious his parents accepted money. Does he go back out onto the open market? And even if he does, does any school touch him, knowing that he could be facing 1) A thorough investigation and 2) And a possible suspension? Furthermore, let’s keep in mind that there are other five-stars committed here (Arizona’s Brandon Williams, USC’s Taeshon Cherry). How long until both of these guys decommit? It will be fascinating to watch.
By the way, and this is totally unrelated, but you know what my favorite recruiting subplot of this week was? It was Roy Williams coming out with a strong stance after the investigation was announced… only to accept a commitment a few days later from Nassir Little, one of the players directly implicated by the FBI in this case (for what it’s worth, Little’s AAU team has come out strongly and denied any wrongdoing on the player’s part).
I’m not sure whether “Hypocrisy 101” is one of the bogus classes players took at UNC that the NCAA is currently investigating. But it’s definitely in the curriculum in Chapel Hill.
Last week Roy Williams was disgusted by college hoops FBI scandal. Today he took a kid caught in the middle of it 🤔https://t.co/7ggmGTnw0q
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) October 5, 2017
Coach’s jobs going forward
We know Rick Pitino is out at Louisville. We know that the four assistants directly implicated from Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State and Auburn have all been fired, and that two of Louisville’s additional assistant coaches are on administrative leave. And we know that more coaches could be implicated down the line.
But here’s a hot take for you: Based on the information we have now (which is always subject to change) I don’t believe any head coach will lose their job.
For starters, Oklahoma State’s Mike Boynton got the job roughly 10 minutes ago. He feels safe. So too does USC’s Andy Enfield who has no previous history with the NCAA. Sean Miller and Bruce Pearl are where it gets interesting though.
With Miller, I think it’s fair to question if he “knew” his assistant was committing a series of violations, but I also feel pretty confident that – again, based on what we know – the NCAA or FBI can prove it. You know what makes me think that? His AD and President waited a full week to come out with statements defending him, which were released earlier this week. You think if this were all about Miller’s job they’d have waited a week to make a statement? Or you think that because they waited a week, it means that they took their time and fully vetted him? I think it’s the latter.
As for Bruce Pearl at Auburn, that one is even more interesting. It’s easy to look at Pearl and say “Of course Pearl was cheating, this guy has been in trouble with the NCAA before!” But if you read the FBI’s affidavit, it’s clear that his assistant coach Chuck Person went out of his way to keep payments discrete. Person essentially told the player involved (believed to be Austin Wiley) to keep things quiet, and is specifically quoted in the affidavit telling Wiley not to share the information with anyone, including most family and his teammates. To which I ask, how could Pearl possibly have known?
Whether you believe Pearl is clean or not is up to you. But I think it will be hard for Auburn or the NCAA to prove that in this case he had any knowledge that this was going on in his program.
Here’s a lengthy statement from the president of UA. pic.twitter.com/WwH94pBcEh
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) October 4, 2017
How does Louisville find a new head coach?
Over the last few weeks it’s been amazing for me to see so many big names associated with this job. First of all, the idea that was first floated around last week that anyone from the outside of the program was going to come in and take over this job a week before the season started was preposterous. No coach was doing that, and I found it hard to believe that with so much uncertainty, even an unemployed coach like Tom Crean would take the job without the guarantee of a long-term deal beyond this season. If you’re Crean would you really consider taking this job in October knowing that a tough season is ahead, with no idea what the future will bring in terms of more details or NCAA penalties?
To extrapolate this to the next level: Are we sure Louisville is going to be able to get a good coach after this season either?
Look, under perfect circumstances I think everyone would agree Louisville is one of the 10 best jobs in the sport. The thing is though, these are far from perfect circumstances, and – as mentioned above – there is no resolution date in sight. Therefore, assuming that we don’t get clarification from the NCAA in the coming days, weeks or months, what leads anyone to believe that Louisville is in line to get a signature coach at the end of the season? You think Chris Mack, Mick Cronin or Gregg Marshall is leaving a job where they make good money, have things rolling (all three could legit make the Final Four this year) to go to a place that could get crushed by the NCAA? You’re out of your mind.
The first step in this process is for Louisville to find an AD, and even then I don’t think we’ll be significantly closer to figuring out who the next head coach is. But if I were a Louisville fan right now I wouldn’t be holding my breath that a big name will come in and save this program come March or April.
So now that we know about the present, what’s next?
It goes without saying that more names will come out. For starters, since the initial report came out, the FBI has raided Nike’s grassroots EYBL division and Andy Miller’s agency. Also, with coaches and Adidas executives looking at jail time, it stands to reason that they will be flipping and sharing whatever information they have as well.
The question now is this: How many names will end up wrapped up in this mess? I saw someone suggest the number sit at 100+ people involved in and around college basketball. Yet the more I think about it, the more I’m not sure that’s the case. The simple truth is that in terms of the FBI, their end game here has never been to clean up college basketball. So ultimately, do they really care about coaches flipping on other coaches? Do they really care about catching other guys funneling $5,000 or $10,000 to players? I don’t think so. What they’re interested in catching are the big fish, and right now we’re still not sure who those big fish are. Agents? Shoe companies? It’s certainly not the third assistant at some middle-of-the-pack Big 12 school, I can tell you that.
Therefore I’d be surprised if we get too many more names involved in college basketball itself. We’ll get some, but I don’t think it’s in the hundreds like some have suggested. Frankly, I’d be much more concerned if I was a high-ranking exec at a sneaker company or agency right now.
Still, any school could get involved in this mess
Just because I think that the FBI’s sweep of college basketball won’t be massive, it doesn’t mean that other schools – even if it’s only a few – won’t become involved. To which I’ll stand by something I’ve said since this investigation broke: I don’t think any Power 5 school should feel great right now.
That’s not to say that every school cheats or every top player takes money. But some schools do cheat, and if we’ve learned anything this week, it’s that even if a head coach might think he’s running a clean program, their assistants might be acting differently.
Again, I don’t think we’re headed for the fall of college basketball, or hundreds of assistants getting busted. But there will be some. And no school should feel 100 percent safe right now.
What about the future of college basketball?
Over the last week, I’ve gone back and forth on this a bit. Based on a number of different conversations I’ve had, I could see wide-sweeping changes. In other cases, I kind of see minimal change at best.
One thing that I do believe is inevitable is that this scandal is the eventual death-knell for the “one-and-done” rule. Remember, the “one and done” is an NBA rule, and it’s a rule Adam Silver has been railing against for a while now. And this could be the push he gets to eliminate it altogether.
Now to the bigger question which many have asked: Will this scandal change the amateurism model as we know it? Will we see players be allowed to sign autographs for money or collect profits from the use of their likeness (such as jersey sales). Heck it’s something that even John Calipari suggested earlier this week.
The easy answer here is “yes,” but at the same time I’m not totally positive. As my buddy Kent Sterling (a radio host in Indianapolis) pointed out to me on-air the other day, the payment of college players under the table has gone on for decades. Heck, there are documented cases of football players taking cash back in the 1920’s. And things haven’t changed yet. Maybe this is the push that’s needed. Maybe it’s not.
My hunch is that some change could come way down the road. But not any time soon.
Finally, cheating will never stop
Let me wrap up with this: Over the last week I’ve heard a lot of suggestion that this scandal will somehow “clean up” college basketball. I don’t buy that for a second. Even if we take away the one-and-done, even if we allow players to have agents, it will never eliminate cheating.
And you know why? Because college basketball coaches are making life-changing money right now. And just as long as we’re going to continue to pay coaches millions of dollars, there are always going to be two things: Head coaches who want to keep those jobs, and assistant coaches who want to get those jobs. And you know what the easiest way to either get or keep a multi-million dollar coaching job? Get the best players.And as long as that’s the case, there will always be cheating.
Understand that while a lot will change in college basketball over the coming years, this is one thing that won’t.
Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”