FBI: “Hey, NCAA, you can do your job now”

Sister Jean only comes around once in a blue moon, NCAA, it’s time to do your job.

Last night, Duke outclassed Kentucky.  Coach K’s #4 Blue Devils beat John Calipari’s Wildcats by 34.  A few weeks ago, Coach K was quoted as saying he felt college basketball was “actually pretty clean” and he was more worried about a team of grad transfers than he was about pay for play.

I didn’t believe Coach K then.  I’m not sure I do now.

This morning, the FBI granted the NCAA permission to investigate the schools named in the first of three college basketball corruption trials.  The trial, which ended a few weeks ago, convicted three individuals tied to Adidas of seven counts of wire fraud.  In its verdict, the jury agreed with the prosecutors from the US Attorneys’ Office that the schools were the victims  of the billion-dollar shoe industry that preyed on big name recruits and ultimately made them ineligible under the NCAA’s amateurism rules for receipt of improper benefits.

I didn’t believe the victimization argument then.  I still don’t (especially when numerous coaches have been directly linked to orchestrating payments to recruits through these agents — Hey, Bill Self).

But what if both of these things are true?  What if college basketball is “pretty clean”?  What if these schools are being victimized?  Where does this leave us?

If Coach K is right and his program is actually clean, then it is only the teams who cannot keep up with the Joneses (Duke, Villanova, UNC) who will fall victim to pay for play (Kansas, NC State, Auburn) because the best teams don’t need to entice players with money.  It also means the temptation is still there for the have-nots, and accordingly, the NCAA will once again be faced with a choice — enforce your own rules or get taken to task in the media like it did in the 2017-18 season.

Many commentators labeled the verdict as a shot across the bow for schools sending cash payments to recruits.  If it’s not just an NCAA violation, but a federal offense, less schools are going to do it, right?

Only time will tell, but ultimately it is up to the NCAA to keep the FBI out of college basketball, rather than the other way around.  The only way to do this effectively is to come down hard on bad actors identified in the corruption cases with stern penalties and to continue to enforce these rules into the future.  If the NCAA fails to police bad actors after the 2018-19 season, the organization will only further prove critics right, that this whole mess was their fault in the first place.

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Attorney. University at Buffalo School of Law alum. Former legal intern and hitting partner at the US Open. Former Division I athlete and assistant coach at Davidson College.

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