Let’s start with what we don’t know.
We don’t know a lot.
We don’t know how many current or recent men’s basketball teams have players who have accepted money or other benefits not allowed by the NCAA.
In cases where players have received money, we don’t know exactly what the head coaches of those schools knew.
Never miss a local story.
We don’t know how many of those players would have gone to those schools regardless of any improper benefit.
And maybe, just as important as anything, we don’t really know how to stop the cheating.
But this much we know or can reasonable deduce.
College basketball — namely men’s Division I hoops — has a problem. One of the worst offenses in the eyes of the NCAA is lack of institutional control. That’s exactly what the NCAA itself has.
The latest allegations hit Friday. Several players, including Alabama freshman Collin Sexton, were named in an FBI report as receiving improper loans. According to other reports, Arizona coach Sean Miller was caught on a phone recordings discussing a $100,000 payment to a recruit.
I thought we were supposed to wait until March for the madness.
Auburn is enjoying an historically great season, close to clinching the SEC regular season championship. Going into Saturday, the Tigers were one win or one Tennessee loss away from clinching at least a tie for first and they hold the tiebreaker, having beaten the Vols in January.
Alabama is in a six-way tie for third place and should be a lock for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Both programs are operating under clouds of suspicion. Auburn first suspend, then fired assistant coach Chuck Person after an FBI investigation led to Person being indicted on charges of bribery, conspiracy and fraud for allegedly accepting $91,500 to steer players to financial adviser Marty Blazer after they were done playing at Auburn. The FBI charged that Person gave $18,500 of that money to the players.
It’s presumed that those players are Austin Wiley and Danyel Purifoy because they were held out all season due to eligibility questions and reportedly will apply for the NBA draft.
Person maintains his innocence. He has not gone to trial. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl insists he knew nothing about any wrongdoing by Person. Maybe Pearl is telling the truth. Just because he lost his job at Tennessee for lying to the NCAA about alleged infractions doesn’t mean he’s lying again.
Let’s be clear about something. There are two completely different arguments to these charges. If you say the players should get paid some how, some way, I’m there with you. There are lots of practical ways to do it.
But the rules are clear. For the most part, college athletes can’t get paid. Period. So when someone like Georgia’s Mark Fox runs a clean program but might get fired for not winning enough, that’s wrong.
Whether Fox is a strong enough recruiter to consistently compete on a high level is one matter. But it’s hard — basically impossible — for any coach who abides by the rules to compete with coaches who cheat. And if they don’t do it themselves but allow their assists to cheat, they’re cheating. If they don’t know that their assistants are cheating, they don’t have control over their programs.
Fox said he was “not surprised” by the allegations.
To be clear: I’m not saying Pearl or Alabama coach Avery Johnson have cheated. We’ll let the FBI and NCAA sort all that out.
What I am saying is this:
Men’s college basketball has a serious problem.