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SALT LAKE CITY — Larry Krystkowiak was right: Recruiting for college athletics is a dirty game.
The current University of Utah basketball coach addressed the topic of shady tactics used to recruit players in an address in 2015 at a Hinckley Institute of Politics event.
“Did you know that there’s a lot of cheating in college basketball?” Krystkowiak asked those in attendance.
He went on to describe an instance where an individual connected to a player he was recruiting called him in the middle of the night and said the recruit’s transcript would cost him $50,000, and likely $50,000 more to actually sign him.
That’s just one of likely many instances around the country. And unfortunately, some coaching staffs have taken the bait and institutionalized cheating. Tuesday, the FBI announced an ongoing investigation that implicates, at minimum, four major basketball programs: Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Southern Cal.
Assistant coaches and others tied to the programs allegedly cut monetary deals, laundered money and skirted the rules to secure the commitment of top-tier athletes. No head coach was explicitly named as a part of the investigation, but Tuesday’s news is just the tip of the iceberg and one that will rock the landscape of college basketball for a long time, if not forever.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said the organization found out about the investigation at the same time as the public.
“The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing. We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior,” Emmert said in a statement. “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust. We learned of these charges this morning and, of course, will support the ongoing criminal federal investigation.”
But the NCAA has to have known for years that this type of activity had been going on. It’s the worst-kept secret in college athletics.
Although many instances could be used as examples, one needs go no further than when Cam Newton, a former Auburn quarterback, was linked to a pay-for-play recruiting violation.
Newton's father, Kenny Rogers, was reported as asking for between $120,000 to $180,000 for his son to sign with Mississippi State out of junior college. The NCAA ruled that no major violations were discovered.
Krystkowiak declined to answer questions about the NCAA scandal or his previous comments Wednesday, saying he would address the matter Friday. He has repeatedly defended his decision to not cheat and has little knowledge of how the backdoor dealings work when signing a recruit. That said, he knew enough to say that “it’s real common through shoe companies right now.”
“It’s real common for a shoe company to help out a parent or a player’s sibling and mysteriously get $250,000, for example, wired into an account that can’t be audited by the NCAA,” he said at the time. “Now the coach can say: ‘I didn’t know what was going on.’ And the kid goes, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ So then they both feel good about their relationship, but then yet there is hundreds of thousands of dollars being made in kids’ bank accounts.”
If anything, the NCAA was complicit in the underground world of recruiting with their blind-eye approach. The NCAA, which is supposed to be a check on programs that skirt the rules, then allowed for bad behavior to become commonplace. Players like Reggie Bush get stripped of their Heisman Trophy every once in a while for violating the rules, but the NCAA remains silent for much of the allegations of cheating going on in college athletics.
Do you think the NCAA knew beforehand about backdoor recruiting violations?— Josh Furlong (@JFurKSL) September 27, 2017
If Krystkowiak is open about the request to pay a player $100,000 to secure a recruit’s commitment to the school, it's reasonable to believe the NCAA had to have known of other instances in which coaches were involved in the so-called “pay-to-play” model. And yet there was no NCAA investigation.
In Utah’s case, it’s safe to say that the program has been above board in its recruiting tactics. How do we know this?
To start, Utah’s basketball program has lacked a true top-tier recruit under the leadership of Krystkowiak. Instead, Utah found some diamonds in the rough and turned them into players talented enough to be drafted by an NBA team.
In the last few years, Krystkowiak has attracted the interest of some bigtime high school recruits and had seemingly secured at least a major interest in the program. But in the last minute, the recruits shifted course and committed to other programs like Arizona and USC.
In the public eye, Krystkowiak’s staff was incapable of closing the deal for a recruit. But there was possibly more at play outside of his program’s control or ability to recruit players that kept high-profile recruits from landing at Utah.
Those players may not have been involved in the alleged cheating surrounding the respective programs but could be a part of the reason why the commitment level instantly shifted last minute.
In Arizona’s case, the program has a history of doing well in the Pac-12, so it’s not unreasonable to think a recruit would choose Arizona over Utah. However, USC’s instant rise to relevance seems more questionable given the recent investigation.
The allegations and impact of the FBI investigation are far from over, but at least the public — and the NCAA if they want to continue to plead ignorance — have a knowledge of the misdeeds happening behind the scenes in college recruiting. Maybe the NCAA can stop worrying about reprimanding the types of water bottles coaches use on the sidelines and investigate allegations with federal criminal charges at play to clean up college athletics.
Until then, the public should not be sympathetic to the NCAA and its self-proclaimed ignorance of cheating. There should be a demand for more accountability to clean up an athletic entity that strives to keep itself from paying players while turning a blind eye to more serious matters.