Hey, NCAA, $100,000 can’t buy a Cinderella

But don’t blame Ayton for taking it

There have always been villains in college basketball going into the NCAA tournament–just ask Duke. But this year, the “bad guys” are that much easier to identify as a result of the current FBI probe into college basketball. Of these bad guys, Arizona stands out as easily the “baddest”. Not only was the Wildcats’ assistant coach, Book Richardson, one of the ten individuals arrested this September by the FBI, but their head coach, Sean Miller, was allegedly recorded on an FBI wiretap offering #1 center prospect, this year’s PAC 12 player of the year and Naismith Award favorite Deandre Ayton, $100,000 to commit to play for the Wildcats. While Miller fully denied all allegations, it is hard to look past the idea that the Arizona head coach had a $100,000 center on his roster of “student-athletes.”

A few weeks ago I blamed the NCAA for fostering a system in which the wealthiest programs that paid players and ducked NCAA amateurism rules are subject to the same rules as mid-majors, but remained unpunished for clear violations. I still believe the NCAA has created a monster it can no longer tame and deserves its unique antitrust deference granted in the Supreme Court’s 1984 NCAA v. Board of Regents decision fully overhauled. As far as tonight is concerned though, it is nice to know that a roster full of upperclassmen, Junior College and year-in-residence rule-abiding transfers can restore some faith back in the power of team basketball to bring down a money-driven powerhouse that offered a six-figure salary to its top prospect.

If it did indeed occur, I don’t fault DeAndre Ayton for taking the $100K. Although I hope it does not come true, there is a chance Ayton’s value could never be higher than what it was during his time at Arizona (see e.g. Greg Oden at Ohio State). These high-profile college athletes who are forced to play a year in the NCAA based on the antiquated one-and-done rule, at least deserve to be paid a fraction of what they are worth to their schools. But tonight, I could not help but look at Ayton and Miller as villains because they chose to play by different rules than the Buffalo Bulls.

As Bulls fans watched UB’s big men, senior Ikenna Smart and junior Nick Perkins, shut down Ayton in the post while junior college transfer Jeremy Harris blew by the 7’1″ center time and again on offense, the entire UB fanbase can take pride in the fact that these Bulls followed the NCAA’s rules as they currently exist on the books. Nate Oats sold his players on this program based on the opportunity to compete at the highest level of college basketball and the ability to develop as people. Just ask Wes Clark, who transferred to UB and had to sit out the first few games this year. One would anticipate that if the FBI wiretapped Oats’ phone calls, his selling points on the University at Buffalo would be the fans, the wings and the lack of lake effect snow in the Northtowns.

So take pride, Bulls fans, for years from now, we will remember how a late night in Boise, a scoring explosion from Massinburg, Clark and Harris, a gutsy charge from McRae, a plethora of confidence from Perkins and the endless hustle from Carruthers busted brackets nationwide and put our program on the map. But also show grace in victory and don’t shame DeAndre Ayton for his role in this mess that the NCAA has created. Ayton is a budding 19-year-old superstar who has been forced to play NCAA basketball in lieu of the NBA because of an outdated rule enforced by a governing body that doesn’t enforce much of anything because it lost control years ago. He deserves to maximize his potential earnings value during his forced year in college, and if anything, the fault for his $100,000 deal should fall on the organization who was willfully blind to the pay-for-play epidemic in college basketball and the schemers who consistently prey on teenage talents to become their next meal ticket.

 

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