A sense of complacency and ennui underpins the spectre of college basketball. While the play on the court has been exemplary as ever, and March Madness is nearly upon us, the focus has largely been off the court this season. Scandals at Louisville, North Carolina, Oregon, and, most recently, Arizona, have shaken the college basketball schema to its roots.
But, in the midst of all the scandal, has anything actually changed? And did any new knowledge arise for the people who care about college basketball?
I would posit that the answer to both of these questions is no. UNC had paper classes for athletes. They had protections within the NCAA, good lawyers, and one hell of a technicality, so they go unpunished. Louisville complied with the NCAA investigation, got caught by the FBI, and now they are dead and buried. Rick Pitino is unemployed. Life, for the NCAA, at least, goes on.
But now we have something different: an up-and-coming coach in Sean Miller, caught on tape discussing payments to recruits. And his school supports him (whether it be for contractual obligations if they fire him or just stubbornness- who knows. Cynical ole me has suspicions on the former).
With Miller, we now have a case so blatant to the ills and perils of college basketball, of the entire system of recruiting and cultivation of young athletes, that the entire system begs to be examined more closely. The powers that be refuse to do so, because it will cost them severely to take stock of the system of free entertainment currently under heel.
Any talk of “but they receive an education” is blind to reality that, no, these 18 year olds are not getting anything of financial value out of the 1 PM communications class that they were signed up for, barely attend, and theoretically tutored for.
The NCAA will not change of its volition. AAU ball will not change of its own volition. It does not behoove the NBA to start paying for the development and curation of talent which it has always gotten for free to this point. We are left with the status quo unless the NBA makes a change in its collective bargaining agreement to more closely mirror to less offensive draft schemes of the NHL and MLB, or unless young athletes take a stand. That seems somewhat likely, as the current commissioner, Adam Silver, likes to keep the players happy, and wants to develop the G League as an alternative to college, especially considering the steep learning curve at the NBA level for one-and-done college prospects.
But the last option is a compelling one. In a world where young athletes take a stand against the use of their talents for a system that does not pay them one cent of the NCAA Tournament TV package, which only even reluctantly feeds them for their labor, and continues to uphold megalomaniacal coaches who utilize the athlete’s talent for personal glory, a resistance to that system seems inevitable. With all the social and political movements being led by teenagers over the past few months, perhaps there is room for one more. Lord knows, the ethical considerations of the sport need it.