Amid FBI Probe, College Basketball Won’t Actually Change


Rick Pitino plans on laying low, but he’s made sure to be as defiant as possible before going out the door. The “effectively fired” Louisville coach has released numerous statements, each surpassing the previous version in its disregard for logic.

In the last few days, he claims to know nothing, shouted in writing about one day being vindicated, and has now filed a lawsuit against the university for firing him without just cause.

A man as famous for a few seconds at a restaurant as he is as a coach, Pitino is not going away without a fight.

When the coach, who is indeed one of the best college basketball coaches ever, was shown the door by UoL, something unsettling happened — the people who were able participants in creating the pedestal Pitino long stood on, doubled down.

If we are being honest about it, as shocking as it should seem that he would being doing such things, it isn’t. “We” (and more about who “we” are later) have empowered him. For decades, specifically since we’ve treated him as such, Pitino has operated within a world that treated him like a god.

Rather than speak to what Pitino has been, at least in his most recent years, media members wanted weave a story of complexity that wasn’t necessarily needed for man who would otherwise prefer to spit in the wind if it meant denying accountability than pioneer a movement that exposed the brutal pitfalls of college sports.

Knowing this, people still wanted to celebrate not only a flawed man, but a coach who (uh, reportedly) has a blatant disregard for all the rules in a sport those same people cherish as if it gives them life.

Rick Pitino impersonator Al Pacino

College sports is built off the backs of unpaid labor. Inherently so, really.

We could argue about the pay structure, or lack thereof, all we want. It is a conversation that usually distracts us from everything else going on, but not everyone in the sport happens to be earning their fair market value.

Would a free-market system correct that? Maybe. It could also result in backup guards from the Club State Pool Cleaners having to transfer down, as no one is paying more than a scholarship for a 20 percent shooter from the floor.

That could be part of this layered conversation, though if we’re being blunt about it, if college sports were treated like the businesses they are, we would be OK with many Division I programs shuttering. After all, you have a right to open a business. Not an entitlement to remain open if you can’t afford it.

Let’s push beyond that topic.

Some believe with the FBI closing in on college basketball that, somehow, things will be different moving forward. That maybe the labor will actually be paid, or the coaches — who have been operating with unabridged power — might not be so powerful, or some sweeping legislation will be set forth that drastically alters the sport forever.


There’s several key players we can point to as to why this will never happen. From those historically awful shoe companies (who we all keep buying stuff from), to the coaches, to the fans, all the way to how the media has romanticized coaches as people more than just folk put in charge of winning a series of games. We have been, and will continue to be, culpable.

It is a simple trickle down effect that has been coupled with a view of college sports that almost only exists due the nurture of growing up with it “being this way” defeating the nature of what everyone claims they love about the United States; capitalism.

Starting with the latter first; if we remove our having grown up with this idea that college money sport athletes are getting enough in a scholarship, it would be hilarious to think of a similar business randomly popping up with the same model.

For the sake of keeping it simple, let’s do just that.

Burger King has randomly decided it wants in on the pizza business. It is going to start a spin-off series of restaurants called Pizza King… because of course that is what a mega-corp would do when fearing the brand being confused for another.

Anyway, rather than pay its employees the fair market value for pizza saloon workers, it announces that it is taking an inherent risk. That, much like the sports writing community, there’s simply so many people who just want a chance to work at Pizza King, the company will pay them in both exposure and experience they can use at some point down the line in their life.

The theoretical PR statement would read like: “Burger King still has to worry about its money-maker in burgers. With this being the case, coupled with a demand for people wanting to know how to make pizza, Pizza King announces that it will allow people to work at the restaurant for free, provided them meet certain qualifications.”

While these non-employees are working at Pizza King, they have numerous other duties that they must succeed at for the chance to work at PK for free for the chance to earn life points — or whatever the hell it is people are still trying to sell with amateurism.

Fry Cook-X isn’t only tasked with manning the fryer 40 hours a week, s/he must also get good grades, abide by some unwritten rules, and adhere to the moral code set forth by the public — who judges Fry Cook-X and colleagues from afar without actually knowing any of them.

If, and this is a MONUMENTAL if, Fry Cook-X can do all of that, s/he will be allowed to cook for free at Pizza King for the chance to eat free pizza and have the priceless experience of officially being a fry cook veteran.

S/he can now carry that experience to whatever future job that person actually wants… OMG NO SHE CAN’T BECAUSE IT ISN’T APPLICABLE TO WHATEVER S/HE PROBABLY WANTS TO DO.

That fry cook above, that is a lot — NOT ALL — student-athletes. We shoehorn a bunch of side-projects around them that have nothing to do with sports (or even school in a lot of cases) just so they’re eligible to entertain us for free.

We do all of that, mostly, so we feel better about ourselves. “Live up to this unimaginable virtuous ideal of humanity,” and maybe we will like you.

That’s right. Magically, the guys who entertain us for free are unlikable for many for “reasons.” To help offset that, the NCAA and its university members have rules built in place for these “unlikable” players to operate under, as to make them more endearing to the paying customers.

Get good grades. Don’t break forever changing and fluid rules. Here’s a “free” education you must apply a service for to receive. And so on. Just don’t be anything other than grateful, as all of that should be good enough for you.

Bluh. Whatever.

Guess what? The FBI probe has nothing to do with any of that. In fact, in the presser held by the feds the day this entire ordeal went down, not only did the Attorney General make all the awful (yet endearing) basketball puns, but he also very literally said he’s “not here to tell the NCAA how to run its operation.”

He also painted universities as victims. As if the NCAA members who have been raking in millions upon millions of dollars have been the hapless folk conned.

Oh… did you know Louisville suspended Brian Bowen for this entire debacle?

Did he do something against NCAA rules? You bet. But — and unlike the way a lot of people are trying to paint it — he wasn’t some high school kid calling up coaches soliciting money. The money was already there, as the bag man routine is as old as the sport and the sport didn’t need Brian Bowen to exist for money to be laundered from a shoe company to a bag man to a player.

Bowen was just the latest cog in the billion dollar machine that is big time college basketball.

Speaking of bag men, notice a theme? That none of these guys are head coaches and that all are black. You ever wonder why it appears it is forever a black coach who is given the job of falling on the sword for the more powerful white coach?

Yup. It is pretty alarming that we’ve not only ignored that portion of the story, but some are still doing the “few bad eggs” routine.

Who gets to decide who are the bad eggs? Are the bad eggs only the people caught with literal bag in hand?

If we get technical about it, it isn’t those committing the supposed wrongs in the sport who are the bad eggs. It is actually those who put them in that position. The powerful, almost always white guy at the head of the pyramid scheme that is know as amateurism.

He’s setup this entire┬áschadenfreude system so the hierarchy trots about the sport without interruption or a glitch.

None of that will change. Nike, Adidas, and whatever other shoe companies, aren’t going to change. Why would they? We all still buy their nonsense despite all of us knowing about all the evils of shoe companies.

Don’t forget about the big boy money sport programs. They aren’t changing either. That is despite the obvious observation of them having a tendency of hiring people to coach their programs who look more like their school presidents than they do the players they are overseeing.

As can be all real non-change, the issue still fundamentally comes down to two players who are sometimes outside observers — fans and media. The latter here, unlike the fan, can be far more active.

Coaches, universities and even the feds, none have the say over how college sports should operate like those who are the paying customers, as well as those who attempt to tell that sport’s story.

Remove them, then the money is removed, and there’s no money to go around. It is something simple, though it could never realistically happen. No one is “boycotting” CBB for the sake of labor rights or adults taking advantage of children or whatever else.

The fans’/medias’ eye in college sports has always been best left purposely blind.

We are a selfish species.

Fans have long confused critiques of their favorite team/coach/player as trolling to get clicks. Truth be told, there’s far more money and security in being a program shill. It gives a media member more access to those entities and a far more loyal readership. If s/he writes something negatively, it is one-off that creates a divide between him or herself from potential loyal readers.

That is bad business.

Why do you think it is certain media members continue to give Grayson Allen preseason redemption stories? Is it because, despite of years of evidence provided, they truly believe the Duke guard to be misunderstood? Or is it because Allen plays for Duke, a program coached by Coach K, and it is smarter to be on the “more-access” side of those rather than be on the outside looking in?

Obviously, Allen’s picture-painting has other variables (race), but it has a foundational aspect of access to a national program with a lunatic fan base. Sure, there’s some money in writing a more accurate truth about Allen, even if his story is more complex than just being a dude who trips people, but there’s no long-term positive to come from it.

Writers get theirs by aligning with fans, not against them. Shocking to read, but it is true.

It is how the old guard of media has survived so long. It is also why the version of Deadspin — operating without access on purpose — was so novel. If you didn’t “need” the power players in the sport to tell great stories, then there wasn’t a fear of pissing anyone off.

Truth can be told, without hesitation, because there was no reliance on the powerful. It was/is a wonderful thing.

Thing is, it isn’t only about pissing off the blue-blood programs of basketball. There’s the underbelly of fan ownership in college hoops. An aspect that makes it great, but prevents Johnny McMediamember from ostracizing himself by discussing a coach’s iffy history.

Steve Alford, Dana Altman, Rick Pitino, and so on, these coaches have all been deified by the press for decades — not because they are good people (there’s enough evidence to cynical), but because fans care not for their origin stories, shortcomings or any other negative aspect of their lives, so long as they win.

Will the FBI probe, whenever it is all said and done, change any of that?

Probably not. There’s too much money involved for too many people who aren’t actually playing the games to help kick start the wheels of change. And when those with power have it, generally speaking, they do everything possible to keep those without it from receiving any.

That goes for the NCAA preventing its laborers from obtaining any, to the old guard media sharing some of it with younger folk, all the way to the FBI not wanting to do something as “polarizing” as fixing one of the last great bastions of Western Civilization labor abuse.

There’s power in money and money in power and no one in charge, or with the ability to change those in charge, wants to shift that balance of power and money.

God forbid it comes out that a sport people “love” operates with unjust rules, overseen by horrible people with intentions of greed holding them firmly to their positions of power.

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