We are roughly one week away from getting ready for one of the best spectacles in American sports: March Madness. This is a time when jobs start bracket pools on who will win a Cheesecake Factory gift card, siblings have an annual battle of who is the best in the family, and contestants try to create the elusive perfect bracket. The March Madness is shown on multiple channels around the clock, from the round of 64 to the final four in bars, restaurants, and frankly anywhere a television is installed.
However, there is a massive storm cloud hanging over the tournament this season that will likely cause devastating floods in the college athletic landscape. The NCAA has always stated that they protect the student athlete, but this scandal will most assuredly question the organization’s credibility and commitment to academics over sports.
Last Friday, reports came out that the FBI had concluded its investigation into corruption in college basketball, but the amount and prestige of schools listed has the potential to challenge the NCAA’s values at its core. Schools such as UNC, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, Louisville and many others were all listed in charges of providing some form of gift and/or compensation to active or former players throughout the years. The NCAA has dealt with “pay-for-play” scandals like this before, but never to this level.
Everyone has always had the assumption that college sports were pay-for-play anyways and the schools and NCAA would always passionately deny any wrongdoing until now, as Pandora’s box is open, and cannot be closed.
The immediate problem the NCAA is facing is how to deal with the active players that received benefits and the schools they play for. Alabama (Collin Sexton), Duke (Wendell Carter), Kentucky (Kevin Knox), Michigan State (Miles Bridges), South Carolina (Brian Bowen), Texas (Eric Davis Jr.), and USC (Bennie Boatwright) are all implicated in the scandal and will likely be playing in their respective conference tournaments in the coming days, but it causes a legitimacy issue in case these schools win their conference titles and/or make the tournament. Other top tier basketball programs that usually have a legitimate shot at winning the title every year could very well be disqualified, but kicking these schools out the tournament could taint March Madness and its champion.
The NCAA, based on its stance that no student should receive any form of compensation for their play, must place sanctions on these schools; but they won’t. The NCAA hides behind its student athlete creed to line the pockets of its executives, and the schools that “adhere” to its guidelines off the backs of teenagers to make them millions of dollars. With how many sponsors ponying up money for bowl games and March Madness, it would be naive to think that schools compete for top recruits on honest recruiting tactics alone. Schools know that more prime time games and NBA lottery picks means more money, and it’s not for the students.
It is time for college sports to start treating these kids as semi-pro athletes and pay them accordingly. The one-and-done rule in basketball is a sham, simply because the NCAA expects these student athletes to go to school and attend class, but everyone knows it’s all a ruse. The whole purpose of going to college is to qualify yourself for employment, but in the sports and entertainment world, all you must show is the talent.
This scandal will likely open the doors for the NBA to go the route of the NHL and MLB and use its development league as a farm system for those that have pro aspirations and train them how to be a professional player, while putting a little money in their pocket as well. However, this shakes out the relationship between college institutions and its athletes, which will change forever.
Mike Mulholland | MLive.com