This is what college athletics has become?
No, this is what college athletics has been. For decades.
The news Tuesday of four college basketball assistant coaches, including longtime Sean Miller aide Book Richardson, arrested by the FBI was a shock because the FBI — the most prevalent and powerful law enforcement agency in the world — became involved.
It is as if the FBI tapped the NCAA on the shoulder and said, “Step aside. If you are not going to stop these illegal practices, we will.”
Imagine the FBI cracking down on another business that has not actively prevented unlawful practices. That business is tarnished.
Shame on the NCAA.
Shame on the money-grubbers at Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, etc. Shame on the seedy AAU organizations as well as the glorified national academies and prep schools that wrongly use young athletes for their financial gain.
Shame on the college administrations. Shame on the coaches. They should be held accountable. The system is broken otherwise.
Shame on the the recruiting services for the nonsense of grading and over-hyping recruits, feeding into the glorification of all these shoe-sponsored AAU events.
Shame on the NBA also for not doing more to abolish this one-and-done calamity that exposes as much as anything else that big-time college basketball is more of a minor-league system than an avenue for 17-year-old kids to get an education.
Shame on all of these entities who wrongly make money off kids, many of whom are from impoverished areas and broken homes with dire socioeconomic backgrounds.
Adidas knows, and so do the underhanded agents and financial advisers Richardson dealt with, that when they flash large sums of cash in front of these families that have never seen that amount, these kids and their families will seize that.
The families should not be put in that situation. Morally, should they reject that cash knowing the transaction is improper, affecting the kid’s amateur status in college? Yes. But try telling that to a single mom who must work two jobs, 16 hours a day, to make ends meet.
And do the players and families know the severity of this action when they have seen or been told that others before them have received similar deals?
The surprise is not only that assistant coaches and brand-name shoe executives were implicated in this scandal Tuesday. A shocker is that it took this long for something to happen.
We grew numb to the NCAA laying down the law.
After decades and decades of infractions enforced and other ineffective punishments by the NCAA, perpetrators did not think twice of continuing to undergo these illegal practices.
The FBI has stepped in. Everything changes.
Assistant coaches accepting money from agents, in attempt to secure an athlete as the agent’s client in the future, has most likely gone on for more than the last two to three years of the FBI investigation.
The issue with agents and improper benefits to players at Arizona extends to when Damon Stoudamire, Ben Davis and Jason Terry became implicated during their Wildcat careers two decades ago.
The difference in those cases then from what was exposed Tuesday is that Lute Olson and his assistants were not part of the scandal.
Stoudamire’s father allegedly received an airline ticket from an agent without Stoudamire knowing. Davis reportedly received gifts, including cash and sneakers, from what was determined to be a friend, not an agent. Terry admitted that after his junior season he received cash, checks and wire transfers from agents. He paid back to the university what he allegedly took.
“When agents attempt to gain an advantage through inappropriate practices, it can be very tempting to the student, even if the student knows the rules,” Olson said in a statement issued by Arizona after Terry’s involvement with agents was revealed. “The student-athlete is under incredible pressure, and a little bit of help to the student or his parent can have a big impact. The tragedy is that the consequences come to the student-athlete, to the basketball program, or to the institution. Despite unprofessional actions, agents are often not at risk and are rarely held accountable.”
The NCAA can not wire tap and investigate thoroughly street agents such as those implicated in the case involving Richardson. The FBI can and that’s where the world of college sports, as we know it, will change.
Richardson put himself in this position to gain leverage not only for himself but to bring to Miller’s program the best possible recruits. Recruiting is a highly competitive business and Richardson was an active player in that cage. The competitive fire in him will not stop now. He will not go down in flames alone when he potentially knows of other assistant coaches from other programs who have engaged in similar activity.
What Arizona fans are fretting is that Richardson may implicate his boss of 14 years, Sean Miller, in one way or another.
Where is the line drawn for accountability? If Miller did not know of Richardson’s misconduct, why didn’t he? That question will be asked.
Federal agents visited Miller’s house at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to one source I spoke with and was also revealed on a GOAZCATS.com message board.
What happens from here?
It is easy to speculate, but nobody knows the full extent of what will come out of this mess for Arizona and college basketball. It may take months, possibly a full year, for the dust to settle.
What will happen?
Coaches will no longer tempt their fate with the FBI now watching over them. Many of them are scared, without question, especially after a legend in their game, Rick Pitino, was put on unpaid administrative leave on Wednesday.
What must happen?
The involvement of shoe companies with AAU coaches, programs and tournaments must come to an end. Going back to the years of high school basketball games as the primary means for a college coach to recruit would be a necessary and welcomed change.
The NBA and NCAA must come to the conclusion that the one-and-done rule is feeding into this mess and making a mockery of a college education. A player must have the opportunity to sign out of high school. If he does not, he must wait at least two years to go pro.
Official statement from University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins on the status of Emanuel Richardson, who was implicated Tuesday in the FBI’s basketball investigation:
“I have directed the University of Arizona to initiate an independent investigation into the alleged actions of Emanuel Richardson and to retain an external law firm to conduct the investigation.
“We also have reviewed the specific factual allegations in the criminal complaint and have initiated the dismissal process against Mr. Richardson.
“The University of Arizona expects everyone who is part of our campus community to adhere to the highest ethical standards of behavior. Arizona Athletics has a strong culture of compliance that begins at the top and extends throughout the organization. Specifically, the athletics department has a documented history of strengthening institutional control by being proactive and comprehensive through rules education and program monitoring.”
The rule works with baseball in which athletes either sign out of high school or wait after three years of college to enter the professional ranks.
This change will allow basketball prospects who are talented enough to sign professionally out of high school and receive money legally from pro teams and shoe companies. These athletes can hire their own agents without having to use the underground method that implicated Richardson and others.
The level of talent in college basketball will be affected without these top-flight players but college basketball has survived that before with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, for example, going into the NBA right out of high school.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with college basketball being a pure competition of amateur student-athletes who are preparing for their future aside from basketball. That is the way it should be.
Get seedy elements out of the game. They have crippled it enough.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.