Pay to Play? Business of basketball may lead to it
by Jared Trexler
College Basketball Contributing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
On the eve of Election Day, one wonders what to make of an America without
moral or ethical boundaries.
When did the audacity of hope become such a laughable platitude -- a societal
shift in morality met by the stringent pushback of powerful agendas and
financial funding of endless, powerful pockets?
And when did Wall Street's greed and corruption and our fickle society's desire
for bigger over better seep into a sports world that has become less about the
game and more about the financial implications of the outcome?
Sports Illustrated's scathing agent-player expose, revelations of improper
dialogue and illegal backyard BBQs involving Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl
and the latest reported violation of Iowa football and basketball recruits
meeting Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore just touch the iceberg of an institution
severing at its core.
Iowa recruits meeting movie stars is a minor secondary violation in comparison
to Pearl's pig roast, where he served Tennessee-style fixings and may have
roasted his and his employer's legacy in the process. Pearl held a press
conference, played the part of wrongful soul who wants to heal through tears
and hugs and admitted to conveniently forgetting certain pertinent facts in the
face of NCAA inquiry.
Yet, unbeknownst to any of us, Pearl's employer sent him a Notice of
Termination of Employment Agreement a day earlier, ripping up his contract and
leaving him...with the same job, at slightly less pay, and maybe even a frame
to mount a termination letter that had nothing to do with termination at all.
Pearl held a BBQ that he knew was an NCAA violation, and he told recruits and
their families just as much. Pearl's silence was golden. And apparently so was
everyone else's at the party.
However, he not only put his high-profile job in jeopardy, but also the
collegiate careers of the recruits eating alongside him. Page 189 of the NCAA
rulebook, 14.1.1 is pretty clear in stating, "an institution should not enter a
student-athlete (as an individual or a member of a team) in any intercollegiate
competition if it is acknowledged by the institution or established through the
Association's enforcement procedures that the institution or representative(s)
of its athletics interests violated the Association's legislation in the
recruiting of the student-athlete."
Pearl knew what he was doing, and risking the collegiate eligibility of 16- and
17-year-old kids who he may have been entrusted in mentoring is damning in its
own right, and apt justification for termination.
The letter said as such. "...Chancellor [Jimmy] Cheek and I have determined
that you engaged in gross misconduct, including dishonesty and other acts
involving intolerable behavior," the letter read. "Gross misconduct,"
"dishonesty" and "intolerable behavior" are apparently just slaps on the wrist
when you have won at least 21 games in each of your five seasons, led your team
to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and one regional final and increased the
athletic department's profit margin at a historical football school by turning
your program into a cash cow.
Then you are safe at any cost. Pearl is just the latest, sexiest case of
institutional chaos, but he is hardly alone. Connecticut head coach Jim
Calhoun's program is under the ire of the NCAA as well, and the school is
ardently behind him because Calhoun is a great father figure, a wonderful
teacher and he transforms Storrs, Connecticut into a sports landmark for
national media and passionate basketball fans each November through March. Wins
equal money. And at a time when athletic department budgets are strapped due to
lack of state funding, the more dollars and cents a program can bring in, the
easier it is to justify the costs associated with making the big bucks.
It is Wall Street's guide to Business 101. The simple tenet that the means are
justified by their success no matter the cost is preached from board rooms to
coaches' offices. And therein lies the major issue with collegiate recruiting
We could spend valuable inches in this space discussing agent-player
relationships in college basketball, how AAU and summer league coaches latch on
to their valuable players and "mentor" them on collegiate choices and
professional contract talks. We could talk about the reactionary suggestion by
college commissioners to wipe away the July recruiting period in an attempt to
cut down on both accidental and purposeful contact with recruits during
unsanctioned games and tournaments.
The fact remains that coercion can be bought at any price and with any vehicle.
The real issue stems from sports' relationship to big business, how athletic
directors are running programs as conglomerates instead of university standard-
bearers and places to teach and mold the character and skill level of talented
young men in the pursuit of athletic success in a highly competitive industry.
If this is the road more traveled, the path beaten down by college basketball's
power programs, then perhaps it is finally time to re-define the essence of
amateurism and return to the uncomfortable, yet fast-becoming- necessary
discussion of pay to play. If student athletes are treated as employees, part
of a business theorem taught to MBA suits across the coaching profession, then
maybe it is time to compensate them as such.
What do you think? Send your comments on the possibility of paying college
basketball players to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post some of the best
responses in next week's column.
In the meantime, stop the water cooler fodder associated with the vehicles of
corruption. They will always be the devil's candy, and if one goes away,
another will emerge. Controlling their desire to run the "industry" begins and
ends with taking the industry culture out of the sport.
College basketball, like our country as a whole, is at an ethical and moral
crossroads. Big business has far too much influence on our government and our
amateur sports world. It is either time to truly change the atmosphere or alter
the rule book to work more effectively within the culture established through
means without an end.
Americans have a voice on our government's principles this November. The time
for change in how college basketball programs operate is reaching its apex
nearly as fast.
5 HOOPS THOUGHTS FOR THE WEEK
1. Duke is a near unanimous choice in both the Associated Press and
Coaches Poll as the preseason favorite to repeat as national champion, and with
good reason. Point guard Nolan Smith and swingman Kyle Singler, two key cogs in
last season's national title run, return, and the rich got richer with the
addition of transfer Seth Curry (brother of tournament legend and current
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry) and touted freshman Kyrie Irving.
Who can knock off the Blue Devils? More on that next week.
2. As mentioned briefly above, the NCAA Board of Directors decided to
stay the course on July recruiting at least for one year, giving enough time to
study the pros and cons of the situation. The pros obviously involve a coach's
ability to scout and distinguish players' strengths and weakness in relation to
their offensive system. The cons involve the attempted crackdown on recruiting
ethics and the ability to limit AAU power brokers in a month when they
3. Pittsburgh suffered an injury to its frontcourt depth when it was
announced junior Nasir Robinson will miss up to six weeks after surgery to
repair torn cartilage in his right knee. Robinson started all 34 games last
season, including a 26-point, 11-rebound effort in a victory over Louisville
4. Speaking of the Panthers, how about the courage shown by head coach
Jamie Dixon in helping the occupants of a vehicle that hit the side wall and
flipped several times on Interstate 279 two Saturdays ago? Dixon cut his hand
on windshield glass as he tried to help the individuals out of the car. He said
later he was "reacting" more than "responding," but he was called a "Good
Samaritan" by Pennsylvania State Troopers. It's just another nice story
involving a nice guy, and one heck of a defensive coach.
5. Who am I interested to see in early-season action? Touted freshmen
Josh Selby at Kansas and Harrison Barnes at North Carolina have the world
watching and passionate fan bases on their shoulders. Selby, in part, is
responsible with replacing Sherron Collins and helping erase Kansas'
disappointing second- round tournament exit last season. Barnes is in charge of
putting North Carolina back on the map after a season in purgatory. Freshmen
are always a buzz in Chapel Hill, but just think about the pressure on a combo
guard expected to not just maintain lofty expectations, but return the Tar
Heels back to their place in the very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: "St. Armand's Circle is jumping. Everyone is dressed
up for Halloween and I'm dressed up as Dickie V....Trick or treat baby!!!"
@DickieV --Talk about a scary costume.
NON-HOOPS THOUGHT OF THE WEEK: (AND A VERY IMPORTANT ONE) We are best
remembered not by our cause of death, but by the causes we championed in life.
Each of us has a personal story of sacrifice -- many across this nation are
living that story right now. But while each story has a touch of sadness and
many an untimely taste of finality, that is not their narrative.
No, these are narratives of perseverance. Hope. Sacrifice and strength. Make no
mistake about it, cancer is an evil and often debilitating opponent, but the
end game, both physically and spiritually, is far more about life.
Catie O'Brien is an extraordinary individual. Yet, I never met her. That speaks
volumes for the continuing life she brings to thousands of young children just
like her. The love she brings to her team of family and friends. The life
lessons her profound story teaches those like me -- individuals who live in a
fast-paced world and sometimes need a reminder to life's most precious gifts.
I speak of Catie O'Brien in the present tense because her story has no end; her
wishes continue to come true, her presence still shapes the world in which we
live. Listen closely to a story that not only moves emotions but moves
mountains in its everlasting gifts to society.
Catie O'Brien was seven years old when she was diagnosed with an aggressive
form of cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor (ATRT). Because of its
rare location in the spine, Catie was referred to St. Jude Children's Research
Hospital. Despite 31 rounds of radiation and two rounds of chemotherapy,
Catie's tumor returned. In December 2008, Catie's family -- with her blessing
-- decided to stop treatment.
Catie went home to spend her final Christmas with those closest to her. She
cherished her time with family, even as she became confined to a wheelchair and
eventually couldn't see. When discussion turned to Catie's final wish, her
mother expected to hear about a special toy or dream vacation...the sky was the
However, after a month of thinking, Catie decided she wanted to help other
children and families, just as St. Jude helped her. She wanted to raise enough
money to run St. Jude all day on April 23 -- her eighth birthday. The cost of
her wish was $1.4 million. She also wanted everyone to color April 23rd purple
on their calendars because it was her favorite color...and she wanted to be
The Catie's Wish Foundation (www.catieswish.org) was organized to follow
through on Catie's desire to help others. In her final months, she threw out
the first pitch at a Harrisburg Senators game and met now-New York Jets
defensive tackle Jason Taylor. Her family and friends wore shirts that read,
"I'm on Catie's team."
Catie, I want to be a part of your team.
And here is how you and I can help. An updated version of my book, "99 Things
You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your Hoops Bracket" will be available in
soft-cover at Amazon sometime in the next month. Click on the link below at
that time to purchase a copy. If you want to donate right away, you can
purchase a Kindle, iPad, iPhone or PDF version of the book right now at the
link below. Forty percent of my personal profits will go directly to Catie's
It's that easy. And it will make a difference.
I never met Catie O'Brien, but she is someone special. She is still championing
causes that instill the best parts of life in all of us.
That is someone I want on my team. Forever.
Trexler is the author of "99 Things You Wish You Knew Before...Filling Out Your
Hoops Bracket." Click
HERE to purchase the Kindle version...and stay tuned on an updated
hardcopy edition this winter! Trexler also wrote "Penn State Football: An
Interactive Guide To The World of Sports", a detailed look at the Nittany
Lions' storied football history. It can be purchased HERE.