Shock and outrage lurk every day, ready to erupt over the next update, sound bite, or tweet. The newsflashes are like chicken wings and we’re the hot oil, bubbling and popping and splattering when they’re dropped in our pan.
Federal authorities have given us a family pack, indicting four NCAA assistant basketball coaches and six other people in a fraud and corruption scheme.
Maybe I’m cynical and jaded. Or maybe my oil isn’t hot enough anymore. Whatever the reason, this isn’t worth the contempt and consternation that regularly flares up nowadays.
According to Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, a three-year investigation that included wire taps and undercover agents revealed “the dark underbelly of college athletics.”
The allegations are neither shocking nor outrageous.
College athletics’ dark underbelly has long been exposed, like a backside lying on the beach. Some schools get burnt; most get tanned. We wear sunglasses to protect our eyes and soothe our conscience, but we feel the heat and become acclimated.
Pass me a cold drink.
Make no mistake, the NCAA absorbed a tremendous blow and individuals are trembling on campuses across the country. Louisville coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich were placed on unpaid leave Wednesday, probably never to return. Louisville could become the first major program to receive the “death penalty” since SMU in 1987.
Other schools – and not just the employers – are braced for revelations from indicted assistant coaches Chuck Person (Auburn), Tony Bland (Southern California), Emanuel Richardson (Arizona) and Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State). The feds claim to possess the recruiting “playbook,” so we might see coaches, runners and agents do more flipping than Cirque du Soleil.
“Our investigation is ongoing and we are currently conducting interviews,” Kim said Tuesday at a news conference. “If you yourself engaged in these activities, I’d encourage you to call us. I think it’s better than us calling you.
“The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one,” he said. “Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial advisors circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes. And employees of one of the world’s largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits.”
The men indicted thus far face two distinct sets of charges. From this viewpoint, one benefitted athletes and one took advantage of them. Call it a wash if you prefer.
But I find the latter much more egregious.
Funneling sneaker-company money to recruits, who in turn commit to play for schools affiliated with the company, seems mostly harmless (unless you root for a rival institution). Yes, it’s against NCAA rules, but you could argue it’s a means of giving players a justifiable slice of pie.
Adidas and Louisville recently signed a contract extension worth $160 million over 10 years. Breaking off $100,000 here and $150,000 there for five-star talents doesn’t seem unreasonable in that context.
There’s a big difference between NCAA regulations and federal law, so I’m not exactly sure why the FBI is involved. Especially for these relatively piddling amounts of money.
“In terms of federal criminal prosecution, the stakes are about as low as they get,” Craig Mordock, a New Orleans-based criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor, told Yahoo Sports. “Amount of loss controls almost everything in fraud cases. And compared to what these judges see on a day-in, day-out basis, it’s the equivalent of a ticket for driving 75 in a 55.”
Coaches who accept money to steer recruits toward certain managers and handlers is worse, more so if beneficiaries are corrupt, incompetent, or both. Then again, apps like Square Cash will give you a monetary reward for every friend you refer. If the coaches reveal their financial incentive and give honest assessments, what’s the problem?
It’s easy for me to be laissez faire. I’m not facing federal prosecutors and their 95 percent conviction rate. I’m not a prized freshman like Louisville’s Brian Bowen, facing an indefinite suspension for allegedly accepting money (not a crime). I’m also not a five-star, Class of 2018 recruit like Anfernee Simons or Courtney Ramey, both of whom rescinded their verbal commitment to the Cardinals.
There’s no question that these developments can be as earth-shattering as the 1951 and 1961 point-shaving scandals that nearly killed college hoops.
FBI agents with surveillance equipment, disguises, subpoena power, search warrants, and the threat of incarceration have that effect on a case. NCAA investigators don’t.
But these charges of “fraud and corruption” seem unworthy of federal prosecution. They examples arguably are the least-offensive aspects of business as usual, where everyone gets paid except the labor.
We can’t be shocked or outraged if money finds some of the players. Not only are there way bigger “crimes” for the feds to pursue, there are better targets if they’re determined to focus on college sports.
For starters, I suggest the NCAA’s antitrust exemption and antiquated definition of amateurism.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.