The problem with the system

There was a piece in the Lansing State Journal last week that talked about the dirty, dirty business of college basketball recruiting. It was very similar to other articles that we’ve seen about the dirty, dirty business of college basketball recruiting, this time using the Central Florida NCAA case as a jumping-off point.

This particular story focuses on the AAU coach-as-talent-pipeline angle, and the NCAA jumps in with their Superman suit on, vowing to compel “some” summer league programs to turn over their elusive donor lists. And of course, ol’ Roy, who’s never broken any rules, chimes in and cheers on the NCAA, and focuses all his wrath on those mean old agents who take all the fun out of coaching.

But taking the cake is Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who complains bitterly about how he’s lost players because he refuses to cheat, and how the majority of top-level player recruitment is based on cheating.

Coach Izzo, you’re obviously a very respectable man, but honestly? You need to either put up or shut up on this topic. And that goes for every coach that “speaks out” against rampant cheating, yet only provides weak anonymous drivel — stuff that doubtless makes Dana O’Neil salivate, but does utterly nothing to fix the actual problems of college basketball.

Yes, of course, Central Florida was full of bad boys that deserved punishment, from the athletic director on down. It was also convenient, of course, that Central Florida is a worthless also-ran of a basketball program that no one cares about, even the people who go to school there. There are no worries in dropping a dime on the UCF program, because they’re operating above their station, pulling recruits from people they shouldn’t be (if you believe in the “order of things” in college basketball, of course).

But the amount of empty bellyaching from coaches in this article is vomit-inducing, particularly if you’re a knowledgeable college basketball fan — you know, the kind who’s read Raw Recruits and Sole Influence and keeps at least occasional tabs on the sausage factory that is the Rivals Top 150 every year.

Roy Williams just wouldn’t cheat, you know? So he didn’t recruit DeShawn Stephenson. Gary Williams wouldn’t play the game with Rudy Gay, so Jim Calhoun and UConn got him. Bob Huggins was “hesitant” to recruit OJ Mayo because of the “circus” that surrounded him…HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…..sorry, lost it for a second there, now I’m good.

But Izzo comes off sounding worst of all in this. He actually says the following in this story:

“If there’s a reason why (Gary Williams) is not coaching – thoughts are that he got married, he was getting older — I would guarantee you that No. 1 on the list, you know more than I do but I’ve talked to him enough, is that he is just sick of the crap, which is sad,” Izzo said. “What’s hard is that sometimes the elites of the elites don’t have to deal with it. It’s the middle rung, the Marylands, the Michigan States, the Texases, that are in that middle. That is a problem.

“It’s just sad,” Izzo said. “I don’t see any way of stopping it, unless everything is curtailed and AAU basketball goes under USA Basketball. It just seems like they can’t take on that animal. So everyone makes money off basketball.”

You don’t see any way of stopping it? Really, coach? With all due respect, that’s about as big of a cop-out statement as I can think of.

Izzo is one of the most respected coaches in the business, and you could make an argument that he should be the most respected. If Izzo feels that this sport he cares so much about is being irreparably damaged by this process, then change needs to come from within the coaching fraternity. If Izzo and his fellow respected coaches aren’t willing to stand up and point out the hypocrisy and the cheating being carried out by people in the coaching profession, then nothing is going to change.

We’ve seen this song and dance before. Go back and read Raw Recruits and you’ll see the same complaining from coaches — how they feel powerless to do anything about the rampant cheating, yet it only increases year after year. That book talks a great deal about this “code of silence” that pervades the college coahcing industry, and treats it as if it’s some sort of noble act for these coaches to look the other way while their fellow coaches break the rules they’ve all agreed to be governed by.

Twenty years later, nothing has changed. And I’m out of patience with coaches complaining about the situation. If Izzo, Roy Williams, Tom Crean, and any of the other coaches out there want to be taken seriously on this topic, they have to actually do something to police their own profession. We’ve long since proven that nobody else is going to police the coaching profession — not the NCAA, not the athletic directors, and certainly not college presidents.

You think AAU is a problem? Yes, it is, but that’s because there’s a market for that behavior. The coaching community pulls the strings on this, in concert with athletic directors and shoe companies. AAU coaches and connected agents are providing a service that is being paid for by the coaches and their connected areas. This idea that college coaches are innocent bystanders in this scary world of AAU is both silly and insulting to those who actually pay attention.

As a longtime watcher of college basketball, I’d love nothing more than to see the entire mechanism of recruiting come visible. Part of the issue here is the NCAA, which is living in a fairyland, but that’s for a different blog post. But right now, the larger issue is the refusal of college coaches to take charge of their own profession. If they don’t want to, then fine — but then please stop complaining about losing players because of your noble refusal to cheat. By doing nothing about this situation, you’re cheating every fan and player who does care about the game of college basketball.


About Johnny Basketball

March never ends.
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