West Coast Wednesday: College Basketball Scandal Looms Over Opening Weekend


Each and every last one of us has let the kitchen trash get too full. You know that feeling: Collection day arrives, you punch down from the top of the top of the heap in order to create enough space to pull the drawstrings closed. Trash juice dribbles on the kitchen floor, forcing you to run the bag outside while leaving the least residue possible — only for the flimsy plastic to give out, leaving a mound of used coffee grounds, blackened banana peels, and assorted other pleasantries to plop on the floor.

This scenario is especially once the clean-up process begins. Why didn’t you take the trash bag to the outside dumpster sooner, or separate garbage into different bags once the contents of the trash can became too much for a single liner to hold? You’re now left with double the work, all while holding your breath to avoid inhaling the rancid smell emanating from the heap.

College basketball season tips off Friday, and on the heels of an offseason riddled with scandal, the sprint to opening day felt akin to dashing an overloaded trash bag to the dump on collection day. The FBI investigation and September arrests of high-profile assistant coaches at big-time programs — including the two most highly ranked teams in the West Coast Wednesday footprint, Arizona and USC — functioned as the dribbling trash juice from college basketball’s more unseemly elements.

Just three days out from the liberating freedom of tipoff, the bottom tore out.

Friday’s nightcap pitting Georgia Tech and UCLA is, in and of itself, symbolic of the conflicting interests at war in revenue college sports. The Bruins and Yellow Jackets are in China, a season-opening tradition the Pac-12 spearheaded five years ago. The cultural experience is touted as part of the student experience, despite the teams being pulled from class for the trip. Still, there is indeed educational value in firsthand exposure to other nations.

There’s also a vested business interest with China’s growing interest in basketball, and the potential for the Pac-12 to gain a foothold there for distribution rights, make no mistake.

The entire spirit those involved with coordinating this annual event went right in the dump Tuesday. First, CBS Sports reported in great detail allegations a former friend of Josh Pastner made that the Georgia Tech head coach was a willing participant in NCAA violations.

Now, the charges Ron Bell makes against Pastner are rooted in a bigger debate about the compensation of revenue-sport athletes. There may not be much hand-wringing over players receiving some airline tickets, shoes and meals, but the episode is another addition to the trash heap for the NCAA. The organization seems incapable of monitoring and enforcing its own rules.

The more serious issue for college basketball developing in China is the arrest of three UCLA players, including LiAngelo Ball. I have seen some try to tie it into the same discussion of player compensation, which I personally find to be a reach. I went to college with kids from affluent backgrounds who shoplifted. Considering Melo Ball rolled up to his 16th birthday party recently in a Lambo, I can’t imagine Gelo couldn’t have scrounged up a few Big Baller Brand bucks for some Louis Vuitton sunglasses.

But that’s beside the point. A Top 25 UCLA team opens it season not with fanfare over the debut of Jaylen Hands, nor the possible star turn ahead of Aaron Holiday, but with three Bruins embroiled in an international incident.

College basketball has been in a tenuous spot for some time now. Its popularity started to wane earlier in the 21st century, commensurate with a downturn in the quality of play. That problem has started to improve. The ecosystem began correcting itself after a few years of feeling out the one-and-done process; an extended time-frame for players to test the NBA draft waters has allowed players to make better decisions for their pro prospects, which has in turn benefited the quality of the game; and much-needed rules changes injected some excitement.

The on-court college basketball product the last two seasons has been outstanding, and I suspect 2017-18 will again deliver. But the trash bag is tearing from all the residual garbage weighing down the sport.

No matter how good Arizona and/or USC prove to be this season, the stench of the FBI investigation lingers. UCLA could return stateside from its goodwill/business trip without three players, who could reportedly face a month-long legal process. College basketball has a lot of cleaning up to do.