When Ole Miss began piling up 5-star football recruits like ricks of wood, we became suspicious.
When Donald Trump criticized NFL players at a campaign-style rally in Alabama, we expected backlash.
When Arkansas lost to Texas A&M for the sixth consecutive time, we knew the seat would become hotter for the Razorbacks coach. But nothing was as easy to predict as last week’s charge by the FBI there is widespread corruption in the recruitment of high school basketball players.
Who knew? Everybody knew or at least suspected.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino is the biggest name connected to the scandal after 10 men, including four assistant coaches at Division I schools, were indicted on charges of fraud, bribery, and money laundering. Pitino is currently on administrative leave and will likely be fired by Louisville.
What a mess, and there is more dirty laundry to clean and air out.
I pay no attention at all during the summer when AAU basketball is in full swing. When a parent brags to me his kid scored 30 points in a summer-league game, it tells me that player will score about 12 points in a high school school game where there is more structure and team play is emphasized.
Not all the problems in summer-league basketball involve top college programs chasing after the nation’s top recruits. The eruption of summer-league programs have made high school coaches at all levels almost irrelevant in the recruiting process.
A local high school coach who had some college prospects on his team a couple of years ago said he was left out of the process almost entirely. The college coach instead went through the players’ summer league coaches.
Now, that’s a problem when high school coaches and school counselors who know the student-athletes best are passed over in favor of a summer-league coach whose actions may not be in the best interest of the players.
“Summer basketball is the worst thing happening to kids,” Benton-ville West coach Greg White said. “Kids transfer high schools based off who they play with in the summer. There is zero loyalty and summer basketball has individualized a team sport.”
White brings a unique perspective to the topic as a long-time coach in high school who also coached AAU basketball during the summer. He’s spent 11 of his 15 years as a head coach in high school and he also worked during the summer with the Arkansas Wings and Ron Crawford, the president of the Little Rock-based organization.
“I respect the Arkansas Wings organization that Ron Crawford was the president of,” White said. “I know he did things the right way. I know he worked with high school coaches, including myself, to do what was best for the kids. There use to be only a couple of summer teams. Now there are a ton of teams, mostly pay-to-play, which means there is a lot of money changing hands.”
So, how to fix the problem?
The explosive charges of corruption by the FBI prompted people such as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas to go on a rant again about paying college athletes to play.
“Billions of dollars are passed around between the NCAA, its broadcast partners, and various sponsoring corporations, the players themselves still make zero,” Bilas said in one of his many interviews on the pay-to-play topic. “They’re in a money wind machine but locked in a straight jacket. Somehow, this doesn’t seem right.”
So, an athletic scholarship that includes clothing, housing, food and a free education is comparable to being locked in a straight jacket? I wish I had that straight jacket when I was working in the cafeteria at Arkansas State and living off buy-one, get-one free food coupons torn out of the school newspaper.
Besides, the pay-to-play proponents never explain how their idea will work. If you pay the men in the revenue-producing sports you’re also going to have to pay the others, including women participating in sports that do not turn a profit. It’s called Title IX and it’s the law.
College sports does not need to make sweeping changes. The government can make a strong statement moving forward by driving the sleaze bags out of the business of amateur athletics.
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.