The headliner here, as the government comes in to police college basketball, is Rick Pitino, one of the great coaches of all time, in college or the pros. Pitino is now put on administrative leave at the University of Louisville, which is the same as them firing him. This is a man who won a national championship at Louisville and at Kentucky, who in the same career coached those programs and the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks. But he goes now, after a career like that, because of a complaint from the FBI that calls his school “University-6.” After all he did in basketball and all the games he won, Pitino goes like that, as a number.
So he is a big loser here, even though he was not named when they came for college basketball out of the Southern District of the city of New York. Rick Pitino takes a big fall here and so do the assistant coaches who were named on Tuesday, and this is just an ending to the beginning of all this, of course, a legal process that will go on for years because of an investigation that has gone on for years.
The real story here is that the government of the United States now goes after the shadow government of college basketball, and agents, and shoe companies that sometimes seem more powerful in this sport than the mob. The feds come in to clean up the sport because the NCAA never could, as the world officially finds out about the cost of doing business in a world — big-time college sports — where everybody is supposed to get rich except the players.
The irony here, as we discover that a player and his family might get $ 100,000 from a shoe company to go play for a program sponsored by that same company, is that the figure looks like tip money compared to what coaches like Pitino make and the money generated for these schools, and the money being made by agents and financial advisors and all the other various hucksters of college basketball.
But you want to know how that kind of money, a hundred grand, was described by people who have worked in college basketball when the news broke on Tuesday about the feds and this investigation and the arrests of those like former college and NBA star, Chuck Person, now an assistant coach at Auburn?
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim explains how the scheme worked.
(Alec Tabak/for New York Daily News)
It was described this way, exactly:
“The going rate.”
This is a world, college sports, where athletes who are supposed to believe that God has smiled on them because of scholarships are punished and punished hard by the NCAA for selling championship rings and jerseys and awards in return for a real good break at the local tattoo parlor. This happened to football players at Ohio State several years ago. At the time the school’s athletic director, Gene Smith said, “As student-athletes you’re not allowed to use your personas to get discounted services.” No. You’re just supposed to lay it on the line and hope you play well enough and stay healthy enough to strike it rich yourselves someday if you make it to the pros, with or without tattoos.
What is amazing this time is that the feds come after all the users in college basketball, the ones who start getting their hooks into gifted young players from the time they start playing AAU ball in high school, and sometimes even before that. The FBI doesn’t just arrest assistant coaches and cost Rick Pitino his job, it arrests a man named James Gatto, a director of global sports marketing for Adidas and another Adidas employee, Merl Code; and a man named Jonathan Brad Augustine, a program director for the 1 Family AAU program, also sponsored by Adidas. And if you think that Adidas is the only apparel company who understands the cost of doing business, think again.
Rick Pitino was on top of the world when he added an NCAA title with Louisville to his hoops resume.
Here is what Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, said at a news conference on Tuesday:
“Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.” On the same day Pitino issued a statement that read this way, in part: “I am committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to ensure those responsible are held accountable.” The next day he found out who his school president and the members of the school’s board found accountable, at University-6, which felt about as much like a capital of college basketball as a Motel 6.
So Rick Pitino was shamed here, absolutely. He is the biggest name, at least so far, stripped of one of the biggest and highest-paying jobs in college sports. But so is the NCAA shamed by the government’s involvement now in college basketball, stripped in all the big ways of the moral authority it somehow still wants the world to think it has, after all the years of selective justice and selective endorsement of its rules and regulations, so many of which seemed to be designed to peck its athletes to death while the money train keeps rolling into campuses all across the country. To the death, the NCAA preserves the system where the athletes who do the most and make the most for their schools have to wait until they leave those schools to get paid.
So the money is still paid under the table, in a glorified form of money laundering. There is some statement from the NCAA cheering on the government in its efforts to clean up an inherently corrupt system, as if they’re all on the same team. They’re not. The only good that can come of this, out of seeing careers and reputations ruined this way in the public square, is if they put the money on the table in college sports at long last. Everything else is just noise, at Louisville and everywhere else.