As the NCAA’s March Madness begins this week throughout the country, the extent of the scandal sweeping throughout college basketball continues to grow.
All four of the tournament’s No. 1 seeds—Virginia, Villanova, Kansas, and Xavier—have been mentioned in some form or another in an FBI investigation. Moreover, about 20 percent of the 68 teams in the competition also have been investigated.
As The Associated Press’ Eddie Pells points out: “There’s an undeniable chance the team cutting down the nets in San Antonio on April 2 could be forced to forfeit its title a few years down the road after the NCAA sorts through the damage.”
In fact, Louisville recently lost its 2013 title as a result of the FBI investigation, and the coach, Rick Pitino, was fired.
The investigation initially centered on Adidas and college basketball programs associated with the brand. In September, the FBI arrested 10 people, including basketball coaches and Adidas personnel, and charged them with bribery, money laundering, and wire fraud. The schools implicated in the original indictments included Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Southern California. But the charges have gone beyond these schools and Adidas.
In February, Yahoo Sports published a report, based on documents obtained by the FBI that named more than a dozen more schools and more than 25 current and former players as having been potentially involved in the scandal.
But college basketball is not alone in the cavalcade of corruption.
As The Atlantic noted several years ago: “With so many people paying for tickets and watching on television, college sports has become Very Big Business…. When you combine so much money with such high, almost tribal, stakes—football boosters are famously rabid in their zeal to have their alma mater win—corruption is likely to follow.”
Simply put, with a lot of money to throw around corruption flows through the system. But the athletes don’t get much of the cash. Sure, they get a scholarship and some walking-around money. But the best players spend a year or so in college before jumping to pro ball.
Here are just a few of the football scandals in recent years. In 2010, the NCAA sanctioned the University of Southern California after determining that star running back Reggie Bush and his family had received “improper benefits” while he played for the Trojans. Among other charges, Bush and members of his family were alleged to have received free airfare and limousine rides, a car, and a rent-free home in San Diego, from sports agents who wanted Bush as a client. The Bowl Championship Series stripped USC of its 2004 national title, and Bush returned the Heisman Trophy he had won in 2005. As Auburn University football stormed its way to an undefeated season and a national championship in 2010, the team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, was dogged by allegations that his father had used a recruiter to solicit up to $180,000 from Mississippi State in exchange for his son’s matriculation there after junior college in 2010. Jim Tressel, the highly successful head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, resigned after the NCAA alleged he had feigned ignorance of rules violations by players on his team. At least 28 players over the course of the previous nine seasons, according to Sports Illustrated, had traded autographs, jerseys, and other team memorabilia in exchange for tattoos or cash at a tattoo parlor in Columbus, in violation of NCAA rules. A University of Miami booster gave illicit cash and services to a dozen Hurricanes football players.
The NCAA, the “nonprofit” association that runs college athletics, takes in close to $8 billion a year. According to a Business Insider report, there are now 24 schools that make at least $100 million annually from their athletic departments. In 2015, the most profitable athletic department in the country was at Texas A&M, raking in over $192 million. The University of Texas wasn’t far behind with $183 million.
Champions Way, a new book by New York Times reporter Mike McIntire, is the latest inquiry into the seedy underbelly of college sports. The “corporate-athletics complex,” as he calls it, corrupts universities, skirts federal tax laws, bullies the IRS, relies heavily on private donors, and sets players up to fail after their sports careers are over by pushing them into academically vapid curriculums.
NCAA President Mark Emmert has stated the obvious. “If true, [the charges] point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America.”
Don Jackson, an attorney who has worked on numerous college eligibility cases, told Yahoo Sports that the root of the problem is that the NCAA’s model of amateurism doesn’t work.
“This problem can be solved if players are compensated,” Jackson said. “The NCAA is not capable of adequately policing tens of thousands of athletes around the country.”
Some people argue that paying athletes would corrupt the system. That system is already corrupt and getting worse all the time.