The fraud accompanying March Madness

Nothing good emerges from the present state of affairs except the advanced income of elite coaches.

March Madness  (photo credit: REUTERS)
March Madness
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On a recent television program a former professional athlete, upset by the reflective knee bend as a protest during the national anthem at professional games, argued that sports aficionados should rely on the “purity” of the college game. As March Madness approaches, it is evident college basketball is far from pure. It is afflicted with fraud. Felony convictions have already occurred, and more are fully anticipated.
Given all of the financial legerdemain and academic and sexual scandals and FBI arrests and revelations, there is probably not one team in the tournament that remains unscathed. Clearly, the schools are embarrassed by the hoopla, even though they averted their gaze from the fraud in their midst.
At the University of North Carolina players would take an African American Studies program that didn’t exist. Many athletes retained their eligibility through the phantom program where A’s were dispersed without exams. When Charles Barkley was at Auburn, he was discouraged from taking “serious courses.”
The NCAA continues to assert these are student athletes, but in fact that is an oxymoron. Most Big Time basketball schools, e.g. Kentucky, UCLA, Louisville, North Carolina, Duke, Arizona, etc., want to be sure their teams are competitive. The athlete is presumably better prepared in the weight room than the classroom.
There are many instances where assistant coaches are hired because they can deliver a star athlete. The Lincoln High School coach, Tiny Morton, was put on the Seton Hall payroll because he delivered an outstanding player. A Kansas star had his father on the university payroll after he agreed to enroll at the college.
These practices have been going on for decades. In fact, they are promoted by the major sneaker companies and college alumni associations. When outsiders say college athletes aren’t paid, they should discuss the matter with Lonzo Ball, who responded to this question by noting “of course I’m paid.” The pretense of scholarship has been stripped of reality. Ohio State’s quarterback A. Barnet said, “I didn’t come to this institution to sit in a classroom; I came here to play football.”
For Division One athletes college sports is a minor league. The NCAA is merely an enabler that discusses the purity of the game as if they were engaged in 1950 tennis matches. There really isn’t a need for further investigation; everyone knows what is going on. Rick Pitino left as Louisville basketball coach after it was discovered sex was provided for potential recruits. Clearly Louisville isn’t alone. A promising seven-foot center at Arizona University was supposedly offered $100,000 to play there. That is a sum that exceeds the salary of assistant professors.
These recruitment plans stand as the basis for coaches’ income. John Calipari, the coach at Kentucky, earns in excess of $8 million. He recruits the best high school players in the country with a promise of a pro career. In most instances these recruits are “one and done” – one year at Kentucky before they are drafted into the pro ranks. For those who don’t make it, dreams can easily be shattered.
Nothing good emerges from the present state of affairs except the advanced income of elite coaches. In fact, the stench in college basketball and football covers every Division One gym and stadium in the country. March Madness may be a viewing success for two networks, but as much as basketball aficionados love the games, they know something is wrong, something is very wrong with Big Time college sports.
The author is president of the London Center for Policy Research and played on the Columbia basketball team from 1956-60.