Let’s be clear on exactly what’s happening here. Yahoo! Sports is pushing out a press release for the FBI, which is acting as the enforcement arm of the NCAA. That all feels like a bigger scandal than a spreadsheet that shows, among other things, a basketball recruit’s mom receiving “hundreds of dollars in advances” from an agent.
Yahoo!, the cops of sports media, have been humping this story hard. (Last week they promised the ongoing federal case would “fundamentally and indelibly alter the sport of college basketball.”) And why not? They’ve got a source, the feds themselves, leaking them evidence and Old Testament-level doom-saying about how good the feds’ case is, and how everyone should be terrified, which is something the feds only do if their case isn’t that strong and they want to pressure people into flipping.
Today’s “blockbuster” story involves documents, spreadsheets and ledgers kept by agents which allegedly track loans and payments made to a couple dozen top hoops recruits. The single biggest payout: a total of $73,500 in loans to one player, with evidence that the loan was intended to be paid back. The biggest non-loan benefit? Another player, now in the NBA, received $9,500 over the course of his college career.
If this is the best the feds have, maybe there is a lot less money going to the players than we all thought.
The investigation is ostensibly about bribery and fraud, and I’m still at a total loss to understand what exactly here rises to the level of a federal case. From what is known, it appears to be the same old bullshit that’s been a fundamental part of college sports since college sports was invented: agents, coaches, sneaker companies, paying players under the table to come play for them because the rules don’t allow them to pay them atop the table.
The NCAA can’t—and doesn’t really want to—police its own house. Why on earth are the feds doing it for them?
Here’s my favorite part of the Yahoo story:
Additional Dawkins expense reports list meals and meetings with players or their families while in college or high school, and before they turned pro. While small amounts, these could be categorized as extra benefits under NCAA rules. It appears Dawkins paid for the meals, which could be an important distinction.
“There’s nothing wrong with meeting with an agent,” said Atlanta-based lawyer Stu Brown, a veteran of representing schools and coaches in NCAA compliance cases. “But then it becomes a question of who pays for the meal.”
Among the players and/or families who are listed as meeting with or having meals with Dawkins:
[List of 10 players who allegedly met with the guy, with no evidence either way for who picked up the check.]
What, exactly, is the purpose of this except naming and shaming then-high schoolers for maybe having a nice lunch?
What is the purpose of any straight college-scandal reporting, other than shaming players for trying to earn a tiny fraction of the money they’re earning for their schools and the NCAA? (I actually have an answer for this! The only reason fans and readers really care about recruiting scandals is because they’re hoping to see their rivals punished, and to be able to hold it over their heads for all eternity. Everything is fandom.)
NCAA President Mark Emmert put out a statement this morning responding to the Yahoo! report, and I can only get through the first two sentences before theatrically retching:
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.
There are criminals here, and it’s not the kids getting a few thousand dollars, and it’s not the recruiters working under terrific market pressures and being kept in check by historically lax enforcement. This is the game. Let’s not pretend the game is a scandal. And let’s sure as hell not pretend this particular story is going to lead to anything more than a few uncareful scapegoats getting busted, a few banners coming down, life going on as normal, and the system that allows and encourages this stuff being propped up even further, this time with federal backing.
If the feds want to do something about college sports’ crooks, I know a cartel worth busting.