So unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 12 hours (in which case, I’m impressed that your first stop would be this website) you’re probably aware that Yahoo Sports released a “bombshell” report on Friday morning (and I’ll explain later why I put the word “bombshell” in quotes). The report directly implicated some of the biggest coaches, players and programs in college basketball and showed direct ties to agent Andy Miller and a runner who worked for him named Christian Dawkins. The ties came through, what amounted to an invoice submitted by Dawkins that showed that he paid anywhere from a couple hundred bucks to 10’s of thousands of dollars (and sometimes more) to some of the biggest name basketball prospects in the sport, players who eventually went on to big-time college programs.
For those who haven’t seen those names, it includes lottery picks from last year’s draft like Dennis Smith Jr., Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson and Bam Adebayo, as well as current stars like Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Kentucky’s Kevin Knox, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Duke’s Wendell Carter.
So when you hear the term “extra benefits” and schools like Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and others, you know it’s a big deal. The question is: How big?
Ultimately that’s the question today, and I’ll do my best to answer here for everyone. Because ultimately this is a story with multiple layers, I broke the article down into multiple parts, discussing what happens this year with past NCAA Tournaments and the future of college hoops.
Here is everything you need to know about today’s news and what it all means in the bigger picture.
Current players and this year’s NCAA Tournament
When the news first dropped today, the overwhelming reaction to the story was “Soooo, I guess we aren’t having an NCAA Tournament this year.” I mean, when you hear that current players on schools like Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State are involved, that sounds pretty damn salacious. I’ll admit, that was my initial reaction as well.
At the same time, for those who actually read the Yahoo story (and I kind of wonder how many people actually did), the fine print makes it obvious that Friday’s report won’t have nearly the wide-ranging impact that many expect.
That’s because while some former college players are alleged to have taken big-time cash payments (most notably Dennis Smith Jr. at close to $75,000), most of the players currently in college basketball took little money, if any at all. Kevin Knox is said to have taken one meal. His father has already denied the claim, but even if he did, as my colleague Tyler Thompson explained today, if it was under $200, all he has to do is pay the money to charity and he won’t have to miss playing time. Same with Duke’s Wendell Carter, whose mom met with Dawkins for one meal, at a little over $100. It’s worth noting that she took the meeting BEFORE Carter ever committed to Duke and it’s unclear who paid.
John Calipari has already said that he expects Knox in the lineup Saturday against Missouri. Duke has already announced that Carter will not be suspended or miss any time because of Friday’s news (nor should he). So for those of you who do your own bracketology, you can go ahead and add Duke and Kentucky back into your 2018 NCAA Tournament brackets.
In terms of looking at everything else, the news on Collin Sexton isn’t news at all – he was suspended two games earlier in the season, after Alabama launched an internal investigation and found out that Sexton’s dad had a meeting with Dawkins. And Miles Bridges’ parents may have taken up to $500, which falls out of that $200 provision, but hardly qualifies as a major violation. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had to pay it back and missed a game or two, tops.
Therefore, while today’s news provided a splashy, sexy “The 2018 NCAA Tournament is going to hell” I just frankly don’t believe it.
On the flip side, what about…
Previous NCAA Tournaments?
To me, this is much more interesting. The simple truth is that while Miller’s agency isn’t alleged to have paid major money to any big-time stars currently in college basketball right now (maybe it’s because they got busted before the season started), they are alleged to have paid BIG-TIME money to players who were in college last year. That includes about $75,000 to former NC State guard Dennis Smith Jr., over $40,000 to Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo, $10,000 to Washington’s Markelle Fultz and $2,700 to the mother of Kansas’ Josh Jackson.
Again, this is the interesting part of Friday’s report. Not what will happen with this year’s NCAA Tournament. But what will become of last year’s.
That’s because if those payments actually went down, then man oh man, does it raise a lot of questions. To put things as simply as possible if a player accepted money, it means three things: 1) They took an extra benefit 2) Because they took an extra benefit, they were by technicality “ineligible” to play and 3) Their school must forfeit every game they played.
Therefore, if that’s the case, then think about what it could mean for last season: Both Kansas (Josh Jackson) and Kentucky (Bam Adebayo) would have to forfeit their Elite Eight runs. South Carolina would have to forfeit the greatest run in school history to the Final Four, since P.J. Dozier was alleged to have taken money as well. How about this: Xavier would have to forfeit most of their regular season wins in which Edmond Sumner player (he alleged accepted $7,000). But because he got hurt late in the year, they wouldn’t have to forfeit their NCAA Tournament wins, when they made the Elite Eight.
In an ironic twist, NC State (Dennis Smith Jr.) and Washington (Markelle Fultz) would also have to forfeit their wins too. I find this funny, since both schools would probably rather forget last season altogether.
There are other players, such as UNC’s Tony Bradley and Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon who are alleged to have accepted money. However, each took less than $200 (Bradley’s father denied taking anything at all) meaning their eligibility should be intact.
What about the coaches?
In addition to the whole “Well, I guess there won’t be an NCAA Tournament this year” narrative, the other big reaction I saw from this piece is that “Well, this is the end for several big name coaches.” After all, when the programs of Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Tom Izzo and others are involved, the coach is going down with them, right?
Well, not exactly.
Again, I don’t know much people actually read the article (do people actually read articles anymore, or simply just check out the headline?), you’ll see that while payments went on to players, there is no proof that any coach had any direct knowledge they were going on. Chris Mack denied any wrongdoing or association with Andy Miller in the actual Yahoo Sports article, and John Calipari made similar statements later in the day. Heck, in some cases, it feels pretty impossible to think that the coaches could have even known at all.
Let me give you an example. While the headline “Bam Adebayo accepts 10’s of thousands of dollars” sounds crazy, if you read the article you’ll see that his payment came on an invoice dated December 31st, 2015. It doesn’t take a legal scholar to know that in December 2015 Bam Adebayo was… STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL. So I ask: How could John Calipari or his staff known about this? Not only was Bam not on campus he wasn’t even in the same state. It’s the same with Dennis Smith Jr. and Markelle Fultz who were both still in high school when the payments went through.
Now, is that to say that no coaches knew at all? It seems hard to say when you realize that the initial FBI probe was launched when phone records showed that Christian Dawkins actually used a handful of assistant coaches (Arizona’s Book Richardson, USC’s Tony Bland, Auburn’s Chuck Person etc.) to get access to players.
However, based on what was revealed on Friday, no new coaches were named.
What’s next for college basketball?
Finally, today has spawned a lot of think pieces on the future of college basketball. Virtually everyone feels like something has got to change. Many blame the NCAA for creating a “black market” where players take money under the table rather than being paid their “market value.” Plenty believe that if you simply paid them, all this would go away.
For starters, let’s stop blaming the NCAA for everything. Specifically, let’s stop blaming them for this “black market.” The simple truth is that as much as the NCAA is to blame for not paying these players, the NBA is equally responsible for not allowing the best players to enter the NBA straight out of high school (or heck, even earlier). Clearly, there is interest from agents in securing these kids as future clients, which is why kids like Dennis Smith and Bam Adebayo accepted money… BEFORE THEY EVEN GOT TO COLLEGE! To be blunt, Dennis Smith and Bam Adebayo would have never even gone to college if they NBA allowed them to be pros. So why are we blaming the NCAA on that?
Furthermore, let’s look at the schools that are allegedly involved. Yes, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State are the headliners, but you know who else allegedly accepted extra benefits in some form or fashion? Players from Wichita State and South Carolina and Virginia. The point being, if you have good enough players, agents are going to want to get ahold of them, no matter where they play or what program they’re at. And by the way, it’s human nature to want more money, no matter how much you have. Simply paying college players wouldn’t stop the agents from getting to them or the players from taking money.
In the end, today’s story was a “bombshell” in a lot of ways, but in a lot of ways it wasn’t.
The NCAA Tournament will still go on and so will college basketball.
The question now is how much changes and how soon.
Aaron Torres is covering basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or e-mail at [email protected]. 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.”