A year ago from yesterday, I woke up way too early to a text from one of my best friends in the sports reporting business. She told me to get up and get out of bed because I had work to do — USC assistant basketball coach Tony Bland had been arrested by the FBI.
I look back on that day fairly fondly (unlike managing editor Eric He, who answered my text about this anniversary with an automatic “ugh”) because despite the stress, it was a highly memorable day of breaking news and writing on deadline. However, as we approach this one-year anniversary mark, it’s strange for me to look back at the last year and see how little has changed.
Last year’s FBI investigation rocked the world of basketball, and it particularly rocked mine. I grew up cheering for the Kansas Jayhawks, and later started backing the Louisville Cardinals, the school of choice for my dad’s side of the family, most of whom live in Louisville. Then I came to USC for college and became a (somewhat lukewarm) fan of Trojan basketball. And somehow last year, all of my teams were embroiled in one of the biggest college sports scandals of all time.
Since the news broke and the FBI made its initial arrests, a lot has changed around the NCAA. Louisville cut off legendary head coach Rick Pitino, and USC let go of Bland. Other schools, like Kansas and Arizona, were comparatively unphased. But still, the atmosphere of college basketball seemed to shift in an inescapable, irreparable way. The gig was up, and now everyone — fans, boosters, coaches, players — knew the truth about how recruiting plays out in the NCAA.
A year later, the NCAA has yet to make any real changes. Sure, there was an action plan and a few committees put together, but the process of NCAA recruiting on the whole looks the same. As the FBI investigation trudges on and individual coaches await their fates, I can’t help but wonder — could this happen again?
It’s my personal belief that all college athletes should be allowed to make money off themselves. Plain and simple. The concept of the purity of “amateurism” is sweet and also naive, and it allows for young athletes to be used and abused by their college programs with little reward outside of a few years of fame and a communication degree.
College athletes should earn revenue cuts equivalent to what a professional player would make from the earnings of their team. The price of tuition and housing might be subtracted from those revenue cuts — say, an Alabama football player is making $750,000 a year for a team, but Alabama wants to subtract the $70,000 tuition and board.Nonetheless, athletes who drive revenue for athletic institutions deserve a fair cut of the profits.
With that being said, I have equal expectations of the college recruiting process. Because when it comes down to it, I don’t see the ethical quandary. If a coach wants to buy a kid dinner on a recruiting visit, who does that hurt? And who does it hurt when the stakes are higher (an Xbox, a car, a $10,000 check)?
College athletes give everything to their programs, often sacrificing social lives and GPAs to help their team reach the next level. Sure, there are the few who can make it all work — Bryce Love and his stem cell research, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff and his doctorate — but these are exceptions, not the norm.
I remember interviewing Sam Darnold last year, and he described laying around his house with his teammates after a long day of classes, meetings and practices, “trying not to move too much” because they were so tired. Most college athletes can’t join clubs or student publications, intern in the summers or gain work experience.
A year ago, the lives of many in the NCAA basketball community changed forever. Bland might go to jail, along with other coaches and lawyers involved in the mess of the FBI investigation. And despite the drastic impact of the investigation, the nature of the NCAA hasn’t been impacted that much at all.
The NCAA must change. If last year taught us anything, it is that the status quo is not sustainable. Not only are the rules being broken consistently and consciously, but they’ve also become unjust rules in their own right. Making this change and righting this wrong won’t be easy for the NCAA, but the first steps must be taken now — and should have begun a year ago — before another mess like this is made.
Julia Poe is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Thursdays.