With so much going on globally, one would think the FBI wouldn’t involve themselves in something as inconsequential as college sports. Since last year, the FBI has been investigating the Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball program. This case is part of an even bigger investigation into apparel companies indirectly influencing the recruitment of top high school prospects.
One of the latest scandals involved Sean Miller, the men’s coach for the University of Arizona. Under his tenure, the school has been plagued with controversy. In 2017, a former coaching assistant claimed on a wiretapped phone call that Miller paid big man DeAndre Ayton $10,000 a month during his one year at Arizona. Ayton himself has been linked to another scandal involving agent Christian Dawkins and Nike. The situation involved Ayton’s mother receiving illegal payments from Nike. In 2018, the FBI found out about conversations between Miller and Dawkins about paying Ayton $100,000 to attend Arizona.
Why would companies like Nike and Adidas risk their reputation to be involved in something like this? For the next superstar ambassador, of course. These companies sponsor grass roots basketball programs and hold NCAA-sanctioned tournaments. Nike has the ‘‘EYBL’’ and Adidas has ‘‘The Gauntlet.’’ Under Armour, which surpassed Adidas in total sales in recent years also started their own league called “The Association.” These tournaments give high school prospects an opportunity to play in front of many college scouts, some of whom are from high profile colleges like North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky. Sometimes those players get free gear to familiarize themselves with the brand, in hopes the young prospect attends a school that brand sponsors. In turn, the brand can sign them a sponsorship deal when they turn pro. Celtics’ guard Jayson Tatum, for example, played on the St. Louis Eagles, a Nike-sponsored AAU team. After going one season at Duke University, a Nike-sponsored school, he later signed with them after going pro in 2017.
The NCAA and its staunch supporters preach endlessly about preserving amateurism. So much so that they’re cool with coaches, who aren’t even part of the school’s faculty, getting paid through multiple streams of income. Many receive multi-million dollar deals, star in commercials and even hold speaking engagements. University of Kentucky’s John Calipari charges $50,000 for speaking engagements. Villanova’s Jay Wright charges $10,000 to $20,000 per appearance, and those are just the baseline prices. Add in things like plane tickets and hotel booking and that price goes up exponentially.
If a coach or program wants to pay an athlete a lot of money, then that’s their choice. It is a trivial subject, because we’re at the point where it’s common knowledge that many prospects get paid under the table. The idea of throwing a person in the slammer for giving a kid cash is excessive and ridiculous. It’s well known the massive amounts of money the NCAA makes through its conference tournaments, TV deals and several other brand endorsements. Decriminalizing the paying of college athletes reduces the power of shady characters like Christian Dawkins. It would be the next step in creating a more equitable system. A system where an athlete can benefit off of their likeness as well as other parties such as the schools and the NCAA itself. The more the NCAA drags their feet allowing athletes to get paid, the more the NCAA’s image will suffer. The FBI investigating this is serves as more indication that college sports has transcended its amateurism status. It’s high time Mark Emmert realizes that.