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News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina)
CHARLOTTE — Lawyered up and casting its own schools as victims, college basketball either won a major court decision Wednesday or bartered its soul for a verdict.
No one seems to know.
Three men were found guilty on seven counts of nefarious dealings, caught on wiretaps and other FBI tactics in an investigation that the feds promised would be a game-changing bombshell for college basketball.
But then they decided they needed a victim, and they came up with N.C. State, a school that hired a coach to sit on its bench and represent the university in a shoe deal for cash to get a player from Fayetteville to go to Raleigh.
They decided Louisville, a school that hired one coach who later hired strippers to help him recruit players and then another coach to pay cash to a street agent to bring a high school student to play basketball for one year, was a victim.
They decided that Kansas, one of the crystal towers of college basketball, was an injured party for throwing around money in every direction to lure players to come to the bright lights of Lawrence and entertain the Jayhawks zealots.
The jurors had no clue what this case was all about. The FBI, which brazenly announced to the major college basketball programs last year to watch out because "we have your playbook," still has no idea what it has stumbled upon.
They don't have anybody's playbook.
The playbook is different at every school and crystal tower in America. It's a dirty game from the grassroots up, a system that steps over the smaller schools and lands directly on the campuses of the major sports universities. Nobody — not the schools nor the NCAA nor the FBI — knows how to fix it.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sat down in front of phalanx of cameras and notepads at ACC Operation Basketball minutes after the verdict from Manhattan was announced. He said it was good. Sort of.
"The jury found them guilty of breaking rules and they should be held accountable," he said. "That's why we have a jury system. That's good. It's always good when someone does something wrong, they're found out and held accountable for it."
But he said he has no idea where this goes from here: the ongoing trials or college basketball itself.
"Do you?" he asked a reporter who was shaking his head.
Here's what we do know: Calling the schools victims is a complete joke.
N.C. State knew what it was doing when it hired Mark Gottfried, a former assistant to twice-fired Jim Harrick and now his boss at Cal State Northridge, and an assistant coach who turned out to be a bagman. Louisville knew what it was doing when it hired Rick Pitino and the people he associated with. Kansas now knows what it has with Bill Self and his assistants.
The schools are in the business to win and make money. And the ruling changes nothing other than giving the NCAA the ammunition to go back and hammer N.C. State, Louisville and Kansas.
The guilty verdict will not change the dirty game. We've watched it from up close here in North Carolina for years and years, going back to the point-shaving scandal involving N.C. State and Carolina in 1961.
William Friday, the former UNC system president, once said "we're turning our universities into entertainment centers."
He wasn't talking about the smaller schools all over the nation who play by strict rules and require student-athletes to go to class and get a degree. He was talking about our basketball factories that now bring in kids to use them for a year or so solely to entertain us and make money for the universities.
And everyone from the college presidents to the coaches and the boosters who are allowed to wallow in the dark areas of the entertainment business are to blame. They aren't victims.
Through the years, we've managed to delude ourselves that college basketball is a virtuous model of athletics, amateurs sacrificing their study time while juggling academics and the vagaries of the secondary fast break.
And while Krzyzewski and UNC's Roy Williams try to get their heads around the modern game of enticing recruits to Tobacco Road, struggling to explain away the issues swirling around the sport, they've basically thrown their hands in the air and begged ignorance.
In a sense, you can believe them. Nobody has any answers, not the Rice Commission nor the coaches association nor, God forbid, the NBA.
The FBI lifted the dark veil on college basketball and believed that alone would persuade the people to start cleaning up the game. Now we realize the feds revealed something we've known all along.
There are too many people involved. It's a shell game involving shoe companies and dirty money taking advantage of our teenagers, not our colleges. There are too many people with their hands out and too many with their hands in the air.
This wasn't the beginning or the end.
It was just Wednesday.
College basketball season starts in less than two weeks.
Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.
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