Recruiting in college athletics, especially basketball and football, has long been a shady enterprise. Blame as to why the recruiting is shady goes in many directions.
What’s to Blame?
First up, is the NCAA’s outdated ideal of amateurism. The NCAA has built a billion-dollar business model built around amateurism. Rules and regulations are passed to ensure the “guardians of the game” can uphold their precious ideal, amateurism.
These rules have built a black market of sorts in the recruiting process of college basketball and football. Major college basketball and football programs are locked in an unabating arms race when it comes to both facilities and recruiting. The facilities, and their costs, are public. Recruiting, however, is not for the faint of heart.
Coaches are paid, first and foremost, to win games. Fans have latched on to the ideal that their program may be doing it without cheating, but that most likely isn’t the case. Major recruits are not picking a school because they love it, they are picking the best option for them. The best option typically revolves around playing time and making it to the professional leagues, but it also revolves around who is willing to meet their prices.
Coaches are left with two options: 1) bend the rules to get the players and win games, or 2) adhere to the rules directly and risk losing their jobs, which hampers their ability to provide for their families. The answer is simple for most coaches; they decide to bend the rules to keep their jobs.
The smarter coaches utilize assistants and boosters to do the dirty work. Why, you might ask. Plausible Deniability allows the coaches to throw the assistants under the bus, while allowing the head coach to retain his job. Is this fair? No, but it’s the system that was enabled by the NCAA’s process. Assistants must recruit at a high level in order to advance their careers, so the head coaches retain all the power.
On September 26th, the FBI announced indictments of 10 people on corruption charges. Those indicted included four Power 5 assistant basketball coaches, the Adidas head of Global Sports Marketing, managers, and financial advisors. Coaches were at Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona, USC and there may be a lot more.
The FBI’s documents also detailed the University of Louisville paying a high-profile basketball recruit $100,000 in order to get him to sign with the university. This revelation ultimately led to Rick Pitino effectively losing his job.
The FBI would later announce the investigation is ongoing and will likely expand to include more coaches at different universities. They also established a tip-line for basketball corruption. If were being honest, listening to this tip-line has to be absolute torture for some poor soul in the FBI, but would comedic gold to most sports fans. Laughing at fans reporting their rivals over emotions would be exhilarating, I’d love to hear that thing.
The FBI tip line for NCAA corruption has just been opened.
I'd pay to listen to this machine in the coming days.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 26, 2017
Change is not on the horizon
After the news broke, many quickly jumped to the notion that college basketball would change after this. It won’t, coaches that survive the FBI’s wrath will learn from the carnage and adjust their tactics. Unless the NCAA changes the amateurism rule, the recruiting black market will continue to churn. Unfortunately, the NCAA has no major incentive to change, outside of embarrassment, as it is a billion-dollar enterprise.
The NCAA will never allow for the complete and public payment of athletes. They could potentially allow endorsements, but that alone would not cause the black-market to cease. It could, however, lower the size of the amount of money dished out under the table to obtain signatures.