College athletics' biggest fear: the FBI

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We have become numb to scandals hitting NCAA programs. They’re interesting for a day or two but then we think about it and it’s hardly surprising so we move on.

People barely batted an eye when Louisville basketball was hit with a sex-for-pay scandal in October of 2015 or when North Carolina committed academic fraud to keep the university’s athletes academically eligible.

The only ones that truly shock us is morally atrocious ones like the infamous Penn State scandal. While the most recent scandal that has broken out in college basketball regarding the FBI investigating seven schools isn’t as morally reprehensible, the magnitude of it in terms of fallout makes it the biggest scandal to ever rock college athletics.

The initial fallout has already occurred in Louisville after they fired head coach Rick Pitino, widely considered one of the greatest coaches in the country, and other schools will soon follow suit.

For a little bit of background, several weeks ago, the FBI arrested 10 individuals, some of them were assistant coaches with division one programs while others were financial managers and advisors and the last was an executive with Adidas, the sporting goods store.

They are accused of money laundering, bribery and wire fraud. So what does this have to do with the NCAA? Well as it turns out the bribery charge is part of the unspoken yet well-known underbelly of college athletics.

As it turns out, the coaches were taking bribes from the financial advisors to use to pay their players so when the players would eventually go pro, the coaches would steer them towards those financial advisors.

It’s essentially saying, “I took care of you for four years, now pay back the favor.” The reason they did this is because professional contracts are so big, the advisors actually profit massively from it.

With Adidas, it was much of the same thing. They would pay coaches of schools that are sponsored by Adidas, such as Louisville and Miami, to funnel money to high school recruits to play for them. This way Adidas gets as much publicity as they can and the player is more likely to sign a sponsorship deal with them when they go pro.

So you may be asking yourself what the big is. Everyone knows players are paid under the table by coaches and boosters so there is no way a scandal about it can ever be that surprising.

Usually I don’t use quotes in my column but Sports Illustrated writer Michael McCann said it best on ESPN’s radio show The Dan Le Batard Show.

“In a way this could be bigger than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes [in sports] because we’re used to corruption and scandals but this is totally different where the Justice Department is going after major figures in college sports,” McCann said. “This is about the institution and amateurism and what the NCAA does but what they stand for is being scrutinized by an entity they’ve never had to encounter before. It’s no longer ‘just the way it is’ because now the government is coming in and saying you can’t do that.”

So let’s break that down. For years now, the voice against the NCAA’s defense of amateurism has been steadily getting louder as the hypocrisy is becoming clearer. The schools have always said the athlete’s getting a free education is more than enough to make it fair since the school’s make millions off their work.

There have been proposals to pay the players outright, allow them to sign their own sponsorship deals and other possibilities but all have been shut down by the NCAA. Hence the culture that has been created of athletes being paid “secretly” by outside entities. It’s a culture that has been so prevalent that people have largely stopped caring about it entirely.

This is truly the first time the model that the entire NCAA is based on has been challenged and its by an entity that is not only the most powerful investigative force in the nation but one that will almost always be successful in winning cases.

This investigation will likely bring more schools into the mix as it unfolds and head coaches will almost surely get fired across the nation. Not only the head coaches but if its found they had any knowledge of this, university presidents could be removed as well.

If the presidents start losing their jobs, other university heads will immediately wash their programs of all corruption to save their own jobs.

Essentially the investigation will have the possible ramification of corruption being taken out of the college game and the student-athletes being paid in some form to prevent something like this happening again. 

The phrase of “that’s the way things are” is usually the kiss of death for any sort of significant progress being made but this is the rare time the change is being forced on an entity that has a long history of adamantly fighting any sort.

Do not just think this is another scandal because not only will this investigation have huge legal ramifications on the schools involved but the entire infrastructure of the NCAA. This is the biggest thing college sports has had to deal with and it will have permanent repercussions. 

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