In a piece published at CBS Sports on Tuesday, reporter Matt Norlander chatted up several of college basketball’s top coaches, hoping to find a path inside the minds of these titans, these innovators. The main question being posed is the one that’s been vexing the sport since the FBI fucked everyone’s shit up in the fall: How do you fix college basketball?
Norlander spoke with Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and Duke’s Mick Krizilonski. All of them are former or reigning national champions or runner-ups; all of them have made indelible impacts on the game, both as court generals and as multi-millionaires profiting from apparel and shoe contracts negotiated to benefit themselves and their schools; all of them are at least 54 years old.
In theory, they should be able to summon the collective wisdom necessary to come to the conclusion that anyone with two ears or two eyes arrived at long ago: If you want to fix corruption in college football and college basketball recruiting, then strip the NCAA’s amateurism rule and allow players a fair financial stake in the billion-dollar industry they prop up. (Did I mention this story came about because all these coaches are on a committee tasked with... you guessed it: fixing college basketball.)
In the below sampling, you will find neither that common-sense proposal nor any other valuable insights. Instead, college basketball’s finest spouted off empty, vague statements masked as sincere suggestions. They hit just about every useless talking point imaginable: Not All Coaches; give the NCAA more power; coaches are too busy to grab a beer with each other and that’s the problem; come talk to MY players and see if you still think the game’s fucked up! You should go read the entire piece and all the empty quotes just to get a sense of how pointless these coaches’ quest to fix the sport will be.
Up first is Tom Izzo, who places much of the blame on the “10 percent” of bad actors within college sports, and comes the closest of any of the coaches to ruminating on the actual issue of player compensation, which, given the vague-ass sentiments he espoused, combined with the fact that it has clear undertones of doubt in players’s abilities to manage their own finances, doesn’t say much.
“We always talk about what’s doing what’s best for the kids. If the kid’s getting a benefit, it’s best for him now, but is it best for him in the long run? What are you teaching him? What is he learning?”
He also issued the piping hot take that the real problem is that coaches don’t take the time to chat at AAU tournaments anymore, and followed that up by pointing the finger back at the armchair experts:
“I do care about the game, care about what happens to it,” Izzo said. “I don’t think it’s bad, but I do think there’s got to be adjustments made. For the most part you have an idea with each (school that cheats). You could probably pick and choose the programs, so could I. So you have an idea. I can’t worry about what the outside people are thinking on everything. For some reason the sport gets scrutinized like everybody’s an expert. How do they know? I took my compliance girl on a recruiting trip two years ago. She was blown away. Nobody goes on those. How does anyone know?
Or take Mark Few’s suggestion that, maybe instead of paying players and allowing them to be represented by either a union or agents that can legally represent their interests, the real fix to the problem is that the NCAA’s power is too limited in that it doesn’t have the right to subpoena member schools:
“I think there has to be somewhere where you can go to voice your concerns,” Few said. “Obviously I think maybe we all, we should probably all subject ourselves. Give [the NCAA] subpoena power so there’s a stronger investigative piece. Because right now the NCAA has no juice. Maybe it’s just, hey, as an NCAA coach, I sign up [to be subpoenaed if applicable].”
Few also said this, which leads me to believe that whatever time it was when Norlander spoke with him, it was clearly exactly 10 minutes after he ripped a fat bong hit and hurriedly scrolled through his News app:
“Part of the real world, when high-level bad guys are doing stuff, there’s an investigative piece,” Few said. “The journalism side of it is the one that ends up, and they don’t hide behind the whole, ‘Well, I could never write that. It’d be libel.’ And that’s kind of how our society monitors itself. Whether it’s with groping, whether it’s with uranium sold to other countries, whether it’s with collusion. That’s not politicians telling on each other. I think it’s kind of tied in. I don’t know if it’s just a coach running in and saying, ‘Jimmy did that’ is just the answer.”
After bragging that he’s been investigated seven times, Roy Williams tried to play the numbers game to downplay the corruption—“That’s 1,300, 1,400 coaches. We had four assistants (arrested). And if they can get some more they’ll get some more. There may be some more, I’m not saying there’s not, but that’s a pretty small percentage”—before he whined about being labeled a cheater not two months after his school got off scot-free by admitting they regularly gave bullshit classes. He then pointed at his players (“kids,” he calls them) and reasoned that because they are good people, coaches like him and all the agents, shoe executives, financial advisors, and AAU coaches operating in the shadows aren’t fucking them over daily:
“I went through this for four years. For four years, every time I’d see somebody I was thinking, He thinks I’m dirty. … That’s the hardest thing. It’s something that, my entire life, my integrity has been the most important thing. And for four years I’ve had to go through with it. That’s the world we live in.” “I don’t think the game’s a cesspool, and yet you’ll read a lot of articles that say the game’s a cesspool,” he said. “I’ll let you spend all afternoon with any 14 of my kids, and you won’t think this is a cesspool, I promise you.”
The kicker comes with Mike Krzyzewski, who, in response to Norlander’s inquiry, says succinctly that college basketball has moved on, and so should you:
“To be quite frank with you I think we’ve passed that phase,” the Duke coach said at a news conference at PK80. “The start of this season has been fantastic for college basketball. The Champions Classic, the interest level, you guys are writing more positive pieces about the game. Keep that up a little bit. I think there’s a great interest in the game because of all these tournaments, whether it be Maui or the Barclays. We’re going to start a 3-on-5 tournament. We’re trying to start all new things that will keep up interest.
Not once did any of the coaches mention paying players; not once did they ruminate on the struggles presented by both financial and structural power imbalances that players deal with daily. They talked about their corrupt industry as if it was their rowdy child who had just been arrested for its fourth DWI. It’s not all bad! What are four measly arrests in the grand scheme of things?
Much like when athletic directors and presidents at Texas, Purdue, Richmond, Kentucky, and Wake Forest gave their unfiltered thoughts on why paying athletes would crumble their empire, the end result is a lot of empty talk discussing The Way Things Are and dissonant reasoning meant to deflect any barbs of actual criticism lobbed from the media or players.
And it’s this empty talk from the same coaching legends that will dominate the committee put together by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. When that pointless committee gives its recommendations to the NCAA’s pointless Commission on College Basketball, expect players to walk away with exactly as much as you did from reading the above quotes: nothing of value.