The Division I college basketball program desperately needed the out-of-state recruit to fill a big gap on the roster, and the head coach dispatched his top assistant to scope out their chances.
Sitting in his office soon after, the head coach received a call from the eager assistant on the road with the message that the big-time player was willing to come. With just one catch.
“What’s that?” the head coach said.
“He said he’ll come,” the aide said, “if we fix his carburetor. And it costs $200.”
The head coach said no. The player signed with another school. And presumably got a working carburetor.
And that’s only been about four decades ago. Not much has changed in the years that have followed, although more players have gotten cars than carburetors as well as shell jobs and a whole lot of cash. It’s a dirty business.
Consequently, the biggest shock from the FBI investigation that has named at least 25 basketball players from more than 20 programs, many of them the blue bloods of the sport, should be that anyone is shocked at all. Does anyone think Andy Miller of ASM Sports is the only unscrupulous agent in the land?
When that head coach was asked how many of the 328 Division I basketball programs today are probably totally clean, he smirked and said, “Probably not very many.”
This is known as the price of doing business, and greedy agents and runners and AAU coaches and relatives and college coaches have been in cahoots in the buying and selling of athletes for as long as players have dribbled a basketball. Texas, too, got caught up in the sordid ordeal when it was disclosed that guard Eric Davis Jr. was named in FBI documents as taking a $1,500 payment from someone working with an ASM Sports agent.
Texas, as per its custom, operates on the side of caution and Friday suspended Davis indefinitely, starting with Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State. While Davis sat in street clothes on the bench — next to star center Mo Bamba, who missed the second half with a toe sprain — his resilient teammates rallied from a 10-point deficit to win in stirring fashion on Kerwin Roach II’s last-second layup.
The Longhorns very much could have used Davis because, as Shaka Smart said, his team “is not overflowing with scoring options.” It’s quite possible that Davis, a junior, might never suit up again for Texas, which at 7-9 in the Big 12 needs every win it can get to become NCAA Tournament-worthy.
This FBI probe about illegal bribes and payments from agents and runners stemming from wiretaps and financial records could well lead to coaching resignations and federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering. Already, Arizona coach Sean Miller has been suspended by his school after it was reported that he was discussing a $100,000 payment from a runner to his star player, Deandre Ayton.
“This is very serious,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte told me Saturday. “We need to clean it up.”
But how? These allegations are nothing new, except for the FBI’s involvement, which means wiretaps and subpoenas and Do Not Get Out of Jail cards.
Some quickly throw out the idea of paying the players, but with only a dozen or so self-sufficient programs in the country, that’s an oversimplification. A small fraction of schools, if any, could afford to shell out “salaries” for men and women in all sports, as Title IX would mandate.
But maybe the concept of amateurism is archaic and needs to give way to an Olympic model of businesses sponsoring whichever college athletes they want or have an open market in which any alumnus or donor can offer an athlete anything he or she wants.
“Pay to play, that’s how I feel,” Roach said. “A lot of allegations will be taken care of if you could find a way for everybody to get paid.”
Asked if that’s realistic, teammate Dylan Osetkowski, said, “Someday down the road.”
The allegations about Miller as well as four college basketball assistants who were arrested in the fall might well represent the tip of the iceberg. And you know the iceberg’s RPI. Last look, its record was Iceberg 1, Titanic 0.
Smart lamented the current climate in his sport and said he would welcome meaningful change.
“Things have to change, and people need to follow the rules better,” Smart said. “We have a long haul ahead of us as a sport. There’s no easy answer. There’s no quick fix.”
Not sure paying players will ever get off the ground. Persuading the NBA to change its silly sham of a one-and-done rule would help some because the best players who don’t want to go to college could turn pro out of high school. Del Conte thinks more should be done to rid the game of abuses at the AAU level.
“The time is coming when there will be less regulation,” Smart said. “The way the model works right now, obviously the regulations are not working.”
Until a proper solution arises, wait for the rest of the iceberg to show itself.