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Ongoing FBI Probe Clouds Start of New Hoops Season

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The New York Post

 

A memorable season leads to a dramatic March followed by college basketball's signature event: the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio.

Only this year, basketball is an afterthought. All anyone wants to discuss is the corruption of the sport and the programs that had coaches arrested or implicated in the explosive fraud and bribery pay-for-play scandal following a lengthy FBI investigation.

Imagine a Final Four of Louisville, Miami, Arizona and USC? The odds are long all four get there, but those programs are each contenders, all ranked in the top 16 of the Associated Press preseason poll, all with NBA-caliber talent. It wouldn't be a shock to see a few get there — NCAA president Mark Emmert's worst nightmare.

"It would be embarrassing, it would be humiliating," ESPN analyst and self-described college basketball super fan Dick Vitale said in a phone interview. "It's a black eye any way you want to cut it, and there's not many who love it as much as I do, who made a hell of a living off it as I do."

On Sept. 26, four assistant coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC, a top Adidas executive and five others were arrested in different schemes to recruit star athletes and funnel them to particular schools, agents, financial advisers and shoe sponsors. Miami and Louisville were also implicated, costing Hall of Fame Louisville coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich their jobs. All 10 men arrested will be indicted this week by a federal jury in New York, Yahoo Sports reported.

And authorities have warned more action could be coming.

Meanwhile, all indications are the NCAA will wait for the investigation to play out. A Commission on College Basketball was formed in the wake of the allegations and arrests, a 14-member committee headed by Condoleezza Rice, including Hall of Fame basketball player David Robinson and former coaches John Thompson III and Mike Montgomery.

The commission will focus on the influence of non-scholastic third parties and shoe companies, the NBA's one-and-done rule that forces prospects to go to college for one year and the presence of agents and financial advisors in the sport. It will release its findings in April. For now, that's all that has been done, or the NCAA is willing to do.

"Their hands are tied," said former U.S. Attorney Roscoe Howard, who spent nearly six years as a member of the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Howard said though the FBI may not have an issue with the NCAA launching a parallel investigation of its own, there's no way any of the people indicted will be allowed by their attorneys to cooperate until the criminal proceedings are complete.

That doesn't sit well with some coaches.

"It's bulls-t," one head coach said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Obviously, there's a reason why [these programs] are good.

"They got caught red-handed. What else do you need to do an investigation?"

Meanwhile the season is set to tip off and several programs are faced with uncertainty. Auburn sophomores Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley are being held out indefinitely for "potential eligibility issues," the school announced Thursday. Chuck Person, the Auburn assistant coach arrested, allegedly received $91,500 in payments to influence two unnamed Auburn players toward agents and financial advisors. Sean Miller may have his best team at Arizona, but will be besieged by questions all season about arrested assistant coach Emmanuel "Book" Richardson, his recruiting ace for more than a decade.

Suspended Louisville freshman Brian Bowen has been cleared by the FBI, and the school can look into reinstating him, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Federal documents allege a $100,00 bribe was paid by an Adidas executive to a player later revealed as Bowen, but his attorney said the player was unaware of the money, which was given to his father, Brian Bowen Sr.

It would be an understatement to call it a dark cloud over the sport. Mistrust in the NCAA is growing at a steady rate. A survey conducted by the organization revealed 51 percent of people don't trust the NCAA, and 79 percent said big schools put money ahead of student-athletes.

"Those are numbers that should cause us a lot of anxiety," Emmert said this week at the fall meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. "We can't go into the next basketball season without having made some pretty significant changes that restore people's confidence in, not just basketball, but in the enterprise."

The National Association of Basketball Coaches held a conference call with all member coaches this week. The message: accentuate the positives. Sell the sport. But that may be hard to do right now.

"The conversations [I'm having with fans] are all about what's going on around college basketball," Vitale said, referring to the scandal.

There have been rumors of more arrests, and the Los Angeles Times reported three defendants were discussing plea deals with authorities, but it has been mostly quiet aside from the Louisville news. Almost too quiet.

"It has everyone very cautious of what they're doing, and I think it's kind of uncharted waters for everyone because we've never had the Department of Justice in our business," another head coach said.

"The biggest thing [from talking to other coaches] is everyone's pissed off," the first coach said. "I don't think anyone thought these guys were taking kickbacks. These guys had no good intentions for these kids."

In the meantime, the ball goes up Friday night. But the action off the court may be more important than what happens on it.

It's Not All Negative

The bribery and fraud scandal that led to the arrest of four assistant coaches and implicated two other programs rocked college basketball and cast a miles-long cloud over the sport. But that won't ruin the season once the ball is tossed up on Friday. Here are five reasons to be excited:

1 Duke and Kentucky feature their usual array of one-and-done talent — players such as Hamidou Diallo (below), Kevin Knox, Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval, while elite newcomers like Collin Sexton (Alabama), Mohamed Bamba (Texas) and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri) hope to invigorate dormant programs.

2 Seton Hall is a preseason top-25 team for the first time in 17 years. St. John's has the potential to feature one of the most dazzling backcourts in the country. Manhattan has reloaded. Iona is again the MAAC favorite, and Hofstra should contend in the CAA.

3 One thing college basketball annually does right is draw early interest with premier matchups, and the sport will give us a potential national championship preview on Nov. 14 when Duke faces Michigan State in the Champions Classic, a meeting of the Associated Press's preseason top two-ranked programs.

4 From freshmen (DeAndre Ayton of Arizona, Bamba, Porter and Bagley) to seniors (Angel Delgado of Seton Hall, Jock Landale of St. Mary's and Yante Maten of Georgia), the sport is teeming with game-changing big men, enforcers in the paint who can dominate at both ends of the floor.

5 Love him or hate him — there really is no in between — you can't take your eyes off Grayson Allen, Duke's trip-happy and mega-talented senior guard who won a championship as a freshman, was suspended for a game last year for one of those trips, and is the sport's No. 1 on-the-court villain.

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November 6, 2017
 
 
 

 

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