Beyond the Bison: Judgment day may be coming for college basketball

Patrick Dempsey, Staff Writer

Multiple reports this week have indicated that the ongoing criminal investigations into NCAA college basketball recruiting practices will likely incriminate some of the most prestigious programs, Hall of Fame coaches, and legendary players from all major conferences in the nation. In September 2017, the FBI arrested four coaches and multiple Adidas executives for their alleged participation in a corruption scandal involving the sports manufacturer Adidas. These eye-opening arrests seem to be only the beginning of the violations to come from the ongoing investigations.

College basketball as we know it may be significantly altered once the FBI probe, which has been a cloud hanging over the sport for the entire season, wraps up. If the investigation is finished before the start of March Madness, some teams may be rendered ineligible to compete. It seems more likely, though, that the probe will not be closed until after the tournament is finished.

According to a recent report from ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, up to three dozen Division I programs could be facing violations as a result. It wouldn’t be mid-major basketball programs either; the teams at the top will be affected the most.

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel went one step further than Schlabach. “The breadth of potential NCAA rules violations uncovered is wide enough to fundamentally and indelibly alter the sport of college basketball,” Thamel said.

Prosecutors have based their investigations on information included from defendants’ wiretapped conversations, financial records, and intercepted phone calls and emails. Maintaining amateurism has always been the “bedrock principle” of the NCAA, and the college game is simply unequipped to handle all the money swerving around players, both before college as recruits, and after college as professionals. It has gotten to the point where, in addition to tracking down terrorists and investigating insider trading, the FBI has decided to step in and protect amateurism in college sports as part of their mandate.

Two-time national championship head coach Rick Pitino was one of the individuals arrested in September. Pitino and the University of Louisville men’s basketball team were accused of conspiring with an Adidas executive to pay $100,000 to the family of a top-ranked recruit to play at Louisville, and the recruit then agreed to represent Adidas in the NBA after college.

College basketball is a billion dollar industry, and the NCAA is essentially funded by men’s basketball revenue alone. The college athletics governing body earns about $900 million each year in revenue from the March Madness Tournament, accounting for 90% of its annual revenue.

There is no denying it, there is a ton of money in college basketball. But is the NCAA willing to adapt? The NCAA came down on Louisville hard on Feb. 20, ruling that the Cardinals must vacate their 2013 National Championship along with all of their wins from 2011-2015. It is the first time in the Final Four era that a team has been forced to vacate their national title. The violations leading to this punishment were not recruiting violations, however, and the NCAA has yet to give any evidence that it will crack down on recruiting violations up to this point.

The severity of the information released from these criminal investigations and the timing of when this information is released could potentially cause sweeping changes to the current state of NCAA Division I men’s basketball. Future Hall of Fame coach of North Carolina, Roy Williams, said that he wouldn’t be surprised if a wide number of programs are involved in the investigation, admitting he has seen and heard of recruiting problems for years. However, Williams believes the Tar Heels program that he led to a national championship last year is not a part of the current investigation, and he is not worried about the future of the program.

When the FBI gets involved, however, these “problems” become much more than that. Fans can expect many high profile coaches to follow Rick Pitino in being fired from their posts. As the 2018 tournament draws near, it is possible that this year’s winner will have to vacate their title once the results of these criminal investigations are revealed.

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