|The scene on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Photo by Jason Schott.|
The Big East and Big Ten Conferences held their media days at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and Thursday, and the pay-to-play issue was more apparent than ever.
The elephant in the room was the FBI investigation into the bribery that went on with recruiting between assistant coaches at many schools and the sneaker companies, and resulted in the firing of longtime Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino.
This made it more apparent than ever that the players need to be paid and that college basketball is in serious need of reform.
The dynamic in college sports right now is the establishment with the coaches who want it to stay the same and preserve their multi-million dollar contracts, while outsiders see the need for reform.
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said, "This is eye-opening to all of us, but there a lot of great things going on in college basketball." Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo said, "There's going to be 10 percent problems in every profession." Former UCLA and St. John's Head Coach and current FOX announcer Steve Lavin proposed a bank be formed for players with financial hardship and acknowledged the "ambiguity, contradiction, irony" that's inherent in college sports. Former Knicks legend and new Georgetown Head Coach Patrick Ewing said, "at some point, they're going to have to be able to pay them."
Below are their comments on the FBI investigation and reforming the system, and my take on their ideas:
Jay Wright, Villanova Head Coach: "We understand that. (the perception of a corrupt system) You can't hide from that. This is eye-opening to all of us, but there are a lot of great things going on in college basketball. We can't disregard it, we've got to work hard to change things, and I think all of us will. We'll all, all the coaches will work together, hopefully with the NBA and this new committee that gets formed. But then that's all we can do there.
"There's still a lot of great kids in college basketball, a lot of great programs, a lot of great coaches, and we've got to try to focus on that as we go through the season.
"Any time anything happens like this in life you take stock of your own program, yourself. It's one of the things we tell our guys all the time, any time something happens, the first thing you have to look at is yourself, what can I do? What can I do to improve? What can I do to impact the situation and then look outward? I think that's the first thing all of us did was make sure in our own program that we have everything buttoned up and running properly."
On what he wants the commission to attack and the one thing that can make immediate changes to the sport, Wright said, "I think there's just got to be an authenticity to amateur college basketball and pro basketball, both of them and I think they've got to be completely separate, in that, I would like to see the NBA invest in the G-League (formerly the D-League, but now with Gatorade, hence the 'G,' as sponsor) so young men that are talented enough to play professionally in the NBA or G-League can go right out of high school and make money. They need money, so they want to make money, but then guys that want to just go to college to play college basketball and they want to be in college and they want to go to class, they're the guys that want to play college basketball. They should have to stay three years if they want to make that commitment. I think that's a start. It's not going to solve everything, but I think that's a basic fundamental start that college basketball and the NBA have to work together on."
Schott's take: Wright is in an alternate universe making college basketball seem as if it's this little game played out in a barn somewhere like when James Naismith founded the sport. This is a multi-billion dollar industry at this point, and for him to make it seem as if there is no way these kids can get some money from all they bring to these schools is beyond absurd. The NCAA has contracts with CBS, FOX, ESPN, and Turner Sports that run into the billions, and he has the gall to float the idea that the G-League can pay the players. The G-League has teams in such hot spots as Fort Wayne, Canton, and Delaware. To show how big the then-D-League is, the Long Island Nets last year played their games at Barclays Center in the afternoon before Brooklyn Nets games, and drew maybe ten people. There is nothing "authentic" or amateur about college basketball with all the TV money being thrown around. Also, Wright talks about the classes they're taking. Yeah, Basket Weaving 101 is gonna really help these kids. That does not include all the classes some poor grad assistant is doing the work for these basketball players, who routinely have to play games across the country for some 9:30 pm FOX Sports showcase.
Steve Lavin, current FOX announcer, former UCLA and St. John's Head Coach: "The amateur story and amateurism is what appeals to college basketball and football fans, and Madison Avenue is aware. Networks and Madison Avenue are aware of the appealing aspect of the amateur narrative and the student-athlete that comes through a university competes on the various playing fields, graduates and you know moves in life better prepared, you know, to contribute and carve out something special.
"So, and that's why it's very challenging to find this happy medium, this amateur narrative and amateurism is protected so we don't lose college basketball and football fans, those that also follow religiously Olympic sports.
"Yet, we also have to balance that with, times have changed and we need to find a creative way to help those student-athletes that have real financial hardship, and that's why I've proposed through the years an idea of an NCAA Bank where families can qualify for those dollars based on their financial hardship.
On the commission: "The right amount of people putting their heads together from all different levels, I think within a year we'll see some changes, within two or three years more dramatic changes. I do think that there are certain junctures in our respective sports that events transpire and they serve as a catalyst for change in the paradigm, putting the new model in place that makes sense for the most parties involved.
On the public perception of college basketball, that it is a corrupt system: "I do think there's some ambiguity, contradiction, irony that is inherent in all billion-dollar industries, and so there isn't the sense of shock like a young person finding out there's no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny. I think those that follow college sports closely, you know, are aware of how competitive industry and while it's imperfect and has its flaws, the good still outweighs the bad, and it's still a system that has a lot to offer and has been life-changing for the majority of student-athletes that compete in their various sports. But, with that said, it would be foolish to not continue to find better ways to both protect what's great about the game, but also be realistic about those that have real financial hardship and needs and a way to find a middle ground through real thinking and in a collaborative manner, and using vision and creative ingenuity to take that next step."
Schott's take: Lavin is right on the money that the story and the myth of "amateurs" that CBS and Turner trot out every March Madness is very appealing. It's as if the exploited players are acting out the part in their three-week drama. He is also very realistic in that college sports can be very beneficial, but the NCAA has a blind eye to the fact that kids don't have pocket change to get dinner and then have the nerve, as has been documented many times, to punish coaches that give a player ten bucks for dinner.
Lavin has the most informed view because he coached UCLA for years, then was an ESPN announcer before coaching St. John's from 2010 to 2015. He is not interested, like Wright is, in preserving a broken system that might threaten his multi-million dollar contract. However, he does not want to see self-interested guys like Wright bring down a system that can easily be reformed.
Patrick Ewing, Georgetown Head Coach: "I mean, at some point, they're going to have to be able to pay them. It's a lot of money in college sports, so at some point they're going to have to be able to pay these athletes."
Schott's take: It takes an outsider to say something so painfully obvious. Everyone is getting rich except the guys that actually play the games. Instead, it's all for the glory of the coaches.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State Head Coach: "You know, I think the biggest thing -- and not knowing everything that's gone on -- I mean what you read is -- no insult to you guys -- it isn't always 100 percent true. And what you see, what you hear, as it comes out, could be worse.
"But I think like every walk of life right now -- Jud Heathcote, rest his soul, used to always tell me about the 10 percent rule. There's going to be 10 percent problems in every profession, whether it be coaching, whether it be in business, whether it be writers. I guess you could go to policemen to priests nowadays to everybody, there's a 10 percent.
"So I wouldn't paint the brush over college basketball or football or athletics. But I do think we need to shore up some things, to be honest with you. I think there's just getting to be too many people involved with these kids in general where their circle used to be very tight. In the last 15 years the circle has grown. In the Twitter era the circle has exploded. I'm not sure that's good for them or good for us or good for basketball."
Schott's take: In 2014, when college football players were looking to unionize, he said at Madison Square Garden that he hopes his kid doesn't ask for a later bedtime because of it. This showed how dismissive he is of the thought of paying the players. The fact he took a page from the Donald Trump Playbook and blamed the media for their problems is a joke. What is the media supposed to do, NOT report on the FBI investigation? Izzo is in dream land, and the fact he coaches a state school and is the highest paid public employee in Michigan is cringe-worthy. Think any of the millions spent on his salary could have gone to keeping the water clean in Flint, Michigan?