Zahlmann: The sport of college basketball is entering a forbidden space

Luke Zahlmann

The game of college basketball is on its way to drastic changes at the hands of several programs utilizing tactics against National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines to lure high school graduates to their stomping grounds.

An undercover FBI investigation recently found that multiple Power Five programs have resorted to paying recruits to attend their university and play on one of their various sports teams. The probe included programs such as the basketball programs of the University of Arizona, North Carolina and Duke among others according to a report published by Yahoo! Sports.

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Ball goes through basket
A basketball falls through the net following a score from CSU against the Gonzaga Bulldogs Nov 13. (Tony Villalobos May | Collegian)

Tabbed as a breaking news event, the discovery of coaches using currency to lure players is blatantly obvious. The players, many from underprivileged situations, should not be the brunt of the conversation. 

Schools such as Duke and North Carolina have continuously signed multiple top recruits, including the Blue Devils’ latest class that features all three of the top players in the nation. Mike Krzyzewski, one of the top college coaches of all time, even fails to make it look like a coincidence.

The odds of any single program being able to recruit multiple top recruits with professional aspirations after a single year at the university are slim to none. Without extra incentives, top players would have no reason to commit to a university with other top recruits, in turn dwindling their own exposure.

NCAA Division I basketball at its highest level is now a bidding war for players, with the highest bidder reaping the benefits. The issue is not one that is a revelation, nor one that should be surprising to fans.

Organizations such as booster clubs have long been on board with supporting the ill-wishes of the head coach of their alma mater’s sports team and opening their wallets for the success of the university they called home.  

Group of Five schools such as Colorado State University are left to pick up what remains of each years’ recruiting class due to their lack of leverage to go under the table financially for recruiting. The difference in the two renditions of college basketball, Power Five and Group of Five, leaves each season to be decided by the elite, with the exception of a handful of early-round upsets in the post season.

The lack of competition posed by CSU’s men’s basketball program in recruiting has resulted in a reliance on the transfer market, with former coach Larry Eustachy being the leader. The reliance on players with college experience already is a mixture of Eustachy’s preference towards established players, as well as the non-existent nature of CSU’s recruiting power in the top echelon of the sport.

On the other hand, at the helm of the aforementioned University of Arizona men’s basketball program is Sean Miller. Due to a wiretap through the FBI, Miller was caught discussing the payment of future lottery pick and unanimous top-five recruit, DeAndre Ayton.

The 7-foot-1 big man from Phoenix, Ariz. was given $100,000 for his commitment to be a Wildcat. The problem for the association that oversees the athletic programs of the nation, is that the NCAA failed to realize the infractions sooner.

As a program that only reached the Final Four a total of four times with a single championship to show for it, Ayton committing to play under the tutelage of Miller should have raised red flags immediately.

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Instead of accepting offers from Kentucky, a breeding ground for elite inside players, or Duke, who has a storied history of greatness in college and professional basketball, Ayton took his talents to the second-most known school in Arizona. That fact alone should have told the judiciaries of collegiate athletics that something was amiss.

The difference in the philosophies of the two programs is a glaring example of the corruption taking place in collegiate athletics, specifically on the hardwood.

The obliviousness shown by those around the corrupt programs, as well as their fans, is striking. The veil of ignorance being placed over the eyes of those who support the largest programs in the nation makes them blind to the facts so openly available.

As commissioner of the highest level of basketball on the globe, Adam Silver has already come to the forefront of the recruiting issue and discussed the remission of the one-and-done rule. The New York Times reported the proposal last year, prior to the investigation.

If the corruption continues, the National Basketball Association will have nary a choice but to sever its ties with the NCAA as a whole, leaving their G-league to train and elevate players out of high school.  

Without swift justice and an in-house sanitation of those that tarnish the beloved sport of college basketball, the slippery slope will take the entire sport into extinction.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.