Latest shoe scandal isn’t that shocking, just disappointing

Not everyone is cheating in college basketball. It just seems that way.

The most recent scandal in the sport wasn’t uncovered by the NCAA. Rather, it was the FBI. As a general rule, if the FBI is investigating one of your major sports, it’s not a good thing.

In the latest scandal, 10 people, including four assistant coaches at big-time programs, were charged as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation into corruption in college basketball, so many in college sports rushed to declare their shock and dismay.

Federal prosecutors said college recruiters, using money supplied by Adidas, promised high-school recruits payments of as much as $150,000 to attend universities sponsored by the athletic-shoe company.

Shock and dismay always seem to be the first reaction when people are caught red-handed. It also leads some to be in denial.

That at least one shoe company—Adidas—is implicated is hardly a surprise. Shoe companies have been guiding athletes to schools and coaches that they pay for a long time.

Washington Post columnist John Feinstein wrote, “The big-name shoe companies, most of whom spend millions on TV advertising during college football and basketball games—notably during the NCAA basketball tournament—are above the rules.

“Their representatives can talk to high school athletes all they want. They can give them all the gear they want, buy them concert tickets, get them front row seats to big games. Because they don’t represent the interests at any one school, they’re free and clear.”

With so much money at stake in basketball, with AAU coaches becoming so important, the shoe companies’ are looking for other ways to get to players. Feinstein says that’s where the bribing of the assistant coaches came into play.

“The same is true of agents, many of whom employ bird-dogs to buddy up to players so they can keep their hands technically clean,” wrote Feinstein.

Bill Sweeney, FBI assistant director, had a warning for other coaches who might be involved in similar schemes. “We have your playbook. Our investigation is ongoing.”

Perhaps the biggest casualty in the scandal isn’t an assistant coach but Louis­ville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, who was placed on administrative leave over his alleged role in a scheme to funnel $100,000 to the family of a coveted recruit.

Of course, Pitino may be completely innocent, just as he claims to have been unaware of other scandals in the past. Just to be clear, Pitino, through his attorney, put out another “I know nothing” statement.

Don’t be shocked if other head coaches also claim to be shocked that bribery was taking place.

It’s more plausible to think that a head football coach might have a difficult time of keeping up with 100 or more student athletes. The numbers are far smaller in basketball and coaches tend to be obsessive in their attention to detail.

“Coaches are control freaks,” said Ken Niumata­lolo, Navy’s head football coach. “We want to know everything that goes on. If we don’t do that, we aren’t doing our jobs.”

Feinstein notes, for example, that Pitino told boosters shortly before the Louisville basketball program’s prostitution scandal broke in 2015: “If one of my players has a beer in Louisville, I know about it.”

Still, Pitino claims to be among those caught off-guard by the FBI allegations. That’s possible, although it doesn’t seem plausible.

Feinstein summed it up well when he wrote, “The longest-running tradition in college football and basketball is this: cheating is worth the risk. Until and unless that changes, it will never stop.”

Hillsboro resident Joe Klein­sasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Klein­sasser@wichita.edu.