The Wednesday Pop Culture Rant is shocked, shocked to learn bribery has been occurring in college basketball. Actually, if you are shocked, The Rant suspects you fancy a version of the game played with peach baskets and the two-handed set shot (go ask your grandpa).1 Lots of buckets equals lots of cash dispensed by agents, shoe companies, and as we learned in the current scandal, a clothing company specializing in suits for athletes.
Adidas is getting taken to the woodshed in this latest round of slap-the-wrists, although the FBI has gotten involved, so things might actually get ugly this time. The formula works thusly: star player gets recruited to a school that just happens to wear Adidas apparel. To make sure said star arrives on campus, copious amounts of Benjamins are applied by a person that also happens to represent an agent ready to assist when you turn pro and a tailor that can create bespoke threads for your draft night party. Apparently assistant coaches helped to make the machine run which doesn’t surprise The Rant, because unless you are a celebrity coach, you make next to nothing down there on the end of the bench.
People are horrified, starting with the NCAA, which simply can’t believe athletes would want a piece of the billions that get made in college sports.2 Why would a poor kid be interested in money when they are offered a college education they’ve had no time to prepare for because they’ve spent their entire youth playing ball on an AAU team all over the country? And who sponsors those teams? The shoe companies that pay millions to colleges, in the case of Under Armour to UCLA 280 million large, to tote their logos. It’s the circle of corruption, we mean life, baby. But hey, you enjoy that dorm room while we make money off your jersey, a right you had to sign away to play.
Whose even more horrified? Rick Pitino. His Louisville program was named in the indictment, and he simply can’t believe it. Just like he couldn’t believe recruits had wild parties with strippers, arranged by an assistant coach without his knowledge. Or his dismay at being extorted by a woman he had sex with in an Italian restaurant, while his wife and family he loves so, so much had to suffer public embarrassment. Yes, Pitino is so horrified he makes Kurtz from The Heart of Darkness look like a boy scout acquiring his multi-cultural merit badge.
The Rant enjoys college sports, but we are under no illusions when it comes to the fact that business and profit run football and basketball. The sports have nothing to do with academics or “student” athletes or the warm and fuzzy commercials the NCAA runs during timeouts. You have a billion dollar industry with almost no labor costs, other than the coaches who are most often the highest paid state employees of where they reside. Heaven forbid an eighteen year-old kid takes some money for his family after busting his butt since grade school trying to succeed at a sport a chorus of adults have told him is his only way to find a better life. Someone should be horrified indeed.
- The Rant loves that early purveyors of the game didn’t think to cut the bottom out of the peach basket and had to fetch each shot with a ladder. The first Naismith version also allowed no dribbling. Somehow, the Warriors would still manage to score 100 points a game.
- And The Rant means billions friend. The last basketball contract went for $10.8 billion in 2010. They signed an extension for $8 billion in 2016. That would almost cover the cost of your books from the university bookstore.