Another sordid scandal has rocked big-time collegiate sports — this time, it’s men’s college basketball.
The FBI arrested 10 people last Tuesday, including four assistant basketball coaches, as part of an investigation involving alleged payments to high school players.
Federal authorities called it a “pay-to-play culture,” in which talented high school athletes were allegedly offered bribes to attend specific colleges, then steered to big-time agents who were in on the scheme.
An employee of Adidas, which signs lucrative contracts with colleges to promote its athletic shoes, is also accused in the case.
“Month after month, the defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country,” acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said.
Ominously, the investigation continues. Coaches and players across the nation are watching, nervously.
Run properly, college sports can be an important part of American society. Scholarships provide opportunities for thousands of students each year. Sports teach discipline and teamwork. Games are an attraction for students, alumni, even casual fans.
But there can be no mistake: Major college sports, engorged with billions of dollars from television rights and other commercial entities, are grotesquely out of whack. No sports fan with a conscience can watch a major college football or men’s basketball game without an uneasy feeling about the dark shadows over the enterprise.
Sitting atop it all is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, an organization assembled to bring rules and structure to the endeavor.
Breaking news: The NCAA is a mess.
In mid-September, the Detroit Free Press reports, the NCAA dinged Michigan State University’s women’s volleyball team for spending an extra $60 on meals. “Athletes were required to repay the money,” the newspaper reports.
The two-year investigation into the alleged pay-to-pay scandal? “We learned of these charges this morning,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.
Some argue under-the-table payments are inevitable when billions of dollars are sloshing around and the kids aren’t being paid. We’re not ready to fully endorse payments to major sports athletes, but that day may come more quickly now.
Others have argued for allowing high schoolers to play in pro sports leagues. That idea is also worth exploring. Colleges should not be factories for producing pro athletes.
We do know this: The NCAA’s oversight role is a sad joke. Without serious reforms, Congress — or another outside group — will have to step in. Already, politicians are circling.
So here’s an idea. The NCAA should investigate itself, to find out why it always misses the real scandals.
Then, perhaps, the NCAA can consider handing itself the death penalty, and let someone or something else run college sports.