Basketball, Editorial

The FBI Sets its Sights on NCAA Basketball

Stop the presses! An FBI investigation suggests that “influencers” surrounding high school basketball hot-shots are getting paid by shoe companies and agents to steer kids to preferred One-and-Done programs!?! Who would have thought it possible? Maybe the better question…is anyone really surprised?

I have no doubt that there are blue-blood basketball programs and blue-blood wannabes that have a river of illicit money flowing to families, coaches, and other influencers that surround the top 30 or so recruits in the country. College coaching staffs may know exactly what is going on and are involved in the money flow. They may know what is going on and simply turn a blind eye. Some programs are not part of the system. They are likely the ones not getting many top 30 recruits.

This is not a question about whether college athletes in revenue sports should get paid (they should). This problem is about the leeches in current system that abuse their relationship and influence with high school kids for profit.

The reality is that every year there is a very small group of high school players who are ready to play in the NBA. The unfortunate reality is that there are another 30 or so kids every year who think they are ready to play in the NBA but are not. Unfortunately, this larger group of “not ready, but think they are” have “experts” and “advisors” whispering in their ears that they are the next Joel Emblid, Jahlil Okafor, or Karl-Anthony Towns, when they aren’t.

Like Ben Simmons, Jabari Parker, Jamal Murray, Stanley Johnson before him, it didn’t take a genius or any special eye for talent to watch Marvin Begley III play basketball and conclude that he was a stratospheric talent. Were there “handers” who profited from O-A-D decisions of these phenoms? I don’t know, and for these players, it doesn’t really matter. It is not these kids who suffer from the actions of the leeches. The only problem for hyper-talented of players coming out of high school is the inconvenience of having to delay earning millions by 12 months with the charade of one year in college.

The bigger problem rests, not with the kids who become one-and-dones and sign big NBA contracts, but with the hundreds of kids over the past 10 years who thought they were O-A-D’s  because their “advisors” told them they were and they weren’t. These players made decisions based on advice and information that was tainted. The players, not the advisors suffer the consequences of bad advice. Crestfallen players languish on the bench at one-and-done factories, realizing they were not as good as they were told. They are recruited-over by the next year’s hot-shots and the dream of the NBA becomes a bridge too far.

Who pays the price for this tragedy? Not the advisers. Not the agents. Not the shoe companies. The kid who would have been far better off going to a program where he would have been the star, where he would have actually played lots of minutes in front of large TV audiences, where he had a chance to get an education, and where, given strong coaching he had a chance to grow into a professional basketball player. He is the one who draws the short straw and suffers the consequences, while the leeches are off in search of their next protege.

I would suggest that “advisors” who get paid under the table to steer kids to preferred programs are not advisors but rather predators, just like any other predator who satisfies their own needs and desires taking advantage of kids. They don’t care about these kids, they care about getting a payday. These players are kids, from a stand point of maturity and in the eyes of the law. Most of their families are not well-schooled in the world of big-time recruiting. These predators who work their way into in the circle of trust of both the players and their families are are leeches, blood suckers. They are the worst kind of threat to the best interests of these kids and their families.

It is my bet that if the FBI goes public with the results of their investigation, there will some big names in college basketball running for cover. We also will learn the names of shadowy figures who, for the right payday, steered high school recruits to the basketball factories that wanted them.

Speculation at this point? Sure. Is there really any doubt that there is illicit money changing hands in an industry that generates billions of dollars annually and the athletes play for free? Pull my finger and it plays Mozart.

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1984 UVa graduate, multi-decade fan & football season ticket holder. The longer I follow Virginia football, the more I appreciate the job George Welsh did leading this program.