Press box: Pay the damn kids — the blatant hypocrisy fueling an FBI probe into college basketball recruiting practices

Illustration by Jose Davila
Illustration by Jose Davila

Don’t you hate it when people act surprised to find out something you know they already knew?

We all despise this specific brand of hypocrisy, and yet here we are. An ongoing FBI investigation into more than 20 major NCAA college basketball programs is set to drop the hammer on “corrupt” recruiting practices in collegiate hoops, and the country is aghast as relatively obvious reports of the “unthinkable” begin to surface.

Former coach at the University of Louisville, Rick Pitino, was run out of town amid a scandal involving paying escorts for players prior to the 2017-18 season. Sean Miller, coach at the No. 14 University of Arizona, did not coach this past weekend. ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach reported Friday FBI wiretaps caught Miller speaking with a representative for an agent about making a six-figure payment to land current National Player of the Year candidate, freshman forward Deandre Ayton.

Schlabach wrote three dozen teams could be penalized. Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde and Pete Thames reported Friday the FBI probe targets blue bloods such as Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Michigan State University, the University of Kansas and the University of Kentucky.

For such heinous and unspeakable behavior, these ‘corrupt’ recruiting practices were quite widespread. In reality, anybody who knows college basketball knew this was going on beneath the surface.

“This is one agent,” said Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim in reference to the Miller report. “Imagine what all the other ones are doing. Agents have been involved with families for 30 years. We have blinders on.”

If everybody is breaking the rules, it’s not the offenders that need to be given a reality check. It’s the rules themselves.

Let’s get one thing straight — major college basketball and football programs make big money for universities.

Donor contributions, media contracts and attendance boosts generated by athletic programs are cornerstones of collegiate revenue. If you’re looking for an example of these factors manifesting in the growth of a university, look no further than right here at VCU.

The Department of Education reported an average annual revenue of $29,635,946 for NCAA Division I-A Football programs, according to Business Insider. Men’s basketball was second on the list at $7,880,290.

The maintenance of an athletic brand is essential to the monetary success of any typical modern university. You know Miller and Arizona anticipated a solid return on a one year, $100,000 investment in Ayton. That’s how much high profile athletes make for universities.  

The NCAA does not by any means wish to change this reality and stunt its own profit margins. But it seeks to punish the widespread practice of adults paying and incentivizing vulnerable kids to come play and make money for them.

That is blatant hypocrisy, and it should make us sick. Because we all know how this inevitably ends — pay the damn players. Stop treating this like it’s not well established precedent. There is a freaking purple elephant in the room and everybody is looking the other way and it is driving me crazy.

No, I don’t have a readily available solution, you can’t pay all student athletes. But the idea that a scholarship alone is enough to compensate high profile ones at major universities is sorely outdated and grossly jaded.

There is no clear answer to this conundrum, and that it why it is imperative we face reality — college players are paid. We can keep it sleazy and under the table, which results in schemes involving truly illicit behavior like at Louisville, or we can address and regulate it to the best of our abilities. We cannot stop it from happening in this era of ultra-commercialized and branded college sports.  

At least Lonzo Ball knows what’s good. Even though, of course *cough* *cough,* he says he never accepted money during his one year stint at the University of California – Los Angeles.

No, he was just grateful for all the career opportunities his education opened up for him.

“All the money they generate for programs and stuff, it’s an unfair system,” Ball said. “Everybody’s getting paid anyway. You might as well make it legal.”

Cheers, ‘Zo. At least somebody is keeping it real.


Zach Joachim, Sports Editor

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