FBI. Bribery charges. Prison sentences of up to 20 years. No, this is not the Sopranos.
It's much seedier. It's college basketball.
As we are wont to do when college hoops takes a step into the spotlight, we like to turn to our area's college hoops expert, TFP ace columnist Mark Wiedmer, who had this to say about Tuesday's bombshell.
To recap, the FBI has arrested 10 people, including four assistant coaches — including Auburn's Chuck person (more on this in a moment) — for participating funneling money to prep players and their families in a scheme, in various instances, that directed the players to either schools, or apparel companies or representation.
Some of the money went directly to the assistant coach, like Person, who the FBI alleges took more than $90,000 in bribes to connect a five-star prospect with future representation. (Side note: Man, who in a million years would think that Auburn getting four- and five-star basketball prospects — and with Bruce Pearl there — would be doing untoward things? Never in a million years? The heck you say. And yes, that's sarcasm.)
The FBI, unlike the NCAA, does not play. Those cats are in serious trouble, and if it's true they are pimping those players to line their own pockets while making six-figure salaries, they should be arrested and are assuredly going to never coach college basketball again. As longtime hoops and shoe guru Sonny Vaccaro told ESPN, this has been been going on forever, and he would know.
Of course, we all knew this was going on forever. Even the NCAA.
These 16-and-under travel teams that cover 16,000 miles a summer with a bunch of five-star kids from six states have to have some fat budgets. And those 'benevolent' apparel companies and sponsors are going to want things in return.
The whole system has been immoral forever. And the NCAA is happy to turn a blind eye as long as the power programs are in March Madness, the event that funds more than 90 percent of the NCAA's budget.
Now, the FBI is involved and it's about to get difficult.
Louisville and the kingpin of scumdom, Rick Pitino, are reportedly to be involved. Of course Slick Rick will deny any and all knowledge of this, but dear Lord, if he didn't know about Hooker Gate and now the federal laws being broken by his staff under his watch, you really have to wonder if he shows up at all on campus for anything other than games. (Of course Pitino knew. Or he purposely didn't know, but still knew what was happening.)
The FBI dudes said this is just the tip of the iceberg. They said they now have the playbook and there will be more arrests and more programs implicated. (Man, here's betting there were a lot of emergency college basketball staff meetings yesterday afternoon, don't you think?)
It also makes you wonder when the FBI will turn its attention to college football, since the reason it got involved in the first place is that these colleges take more than $10,000 in federal funds, since they are protecting the assets of these federally funded branches. It also makes you realize the simple wonder what the simple math is and what the fallout will be.
Let's take the last part first. There is talk — most loudly by Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports — that Louisville getting the death penalty. (The death penalty will never happen in major college athletics, in our opinion, but man, if there's one program that is skirting that line time and time again, it's Pitino and his band of Card tricksters.)
We think this will cost Bruce Pearl his gig too, and it very well could derail Auburn's most anticipated basketball season before it ever starts. Especially considering the player involved, who was not named, but Person called him the No. 9-ranked player in the country, which fits the ranking of rising sophomore center Austin Wiley, could very well be deemed ineligible this season. (And man, at what point does Auburn Jay Jacobs get the ax? Dude horribly mismanaged a softball debacle that included talk that the top assistant — and head coach's son — had improper relations with players. Now, he has a big-name former alum and associate head coach in Person getting pinched by the Feds. Bye, Jay. Don't let the door hit cha' where the good Lord split cha'.)
Here's one final question, and it relates to the height of the steroids era:
Looking back, there is not one single major league player from 1996-2003 or so that if his name was linked to steroids, it would surprise me. Not Greg Maddox. Not Derek Jeter. None of them. Now, that's not saying they all did it, but we'd assume way more than half did and it would not shock me if it was more than 75 percent at the height of PEDs.
The same goes here. Maybe not all of them are cheating. Maybe.
But we think this is standard operating procedure rather than an outlier. Period.
And if you want indirect evidence of that, where are the Caliparis, Coach Ks, Roy Williams, Bill Selfs, and pick a high-profile coach coming out condemning these programs and these coaches and this process?
The only coaches that are commenting on this are doing it anonymously, and that may scream more than anything how filthy college basketball is. Think of it this way: The coaches who are not cheating are actually afraid to put their name on statements calling out the ones that are.
Yes, college hoops recruiting, where coaches are embarrassed or afraid of the repercussions for following the rules.
We talked about it yesterday, and the big questions in regard to the NFL protests now center around are what's next?
What's next on the field? There are whispers that players in Carolina and Dallas were not happy they were not allowed to participate in anthem protests by owners Jerry Richardson and Jerry Jones.
As you certainly know, President Trump commended via Twitter Jones and the way the Dallas organization handled the Monday night pregame stuff. The Cowboys knelt in unity before the anthem and stood together during the anthem.
(And man, can some one in the White House grab Donald's SmartPhone and offer some perspective to the Commander and Chief. With the nation staring an angry enemy in North Korea, which claims it is ready for war, the weather disasters of the last six weeks and more political BID-ness, here are the Tweets by number per topic from Trump in the last four-plus days: NFL/Anthem — 24; Puerto Rico — 7; Health care — 5; Alabama senate race — 5 (with three deleted after his candidate Luther Strange lost to Roy Moore on Tuesday); Spain terror attack, Iran/North Korea, United Nations — 2 each; bunch tied at one include his wife, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the National Security Council.)
Anyhoo, in Charlotte, The Observer reported that the six captains, including Thomas Davis, Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, met with Richardson before Sunday's game and were upset that they were told not to politicize the game. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn told the paper "I think a lot of people were scared on our team" to protest.
(We mentioned on Press Row that several of the teams that had more surprising losses — Raiders, Steelers, Seahawks — were among some of the teams that had the most outspoken and/or controversial folks in this. Now you have to wonder if the Panthers' dreadful performance at home against the Saints was not, at least in part, affected by the presume talking points.)
So wondering what happens on the field this weekend — especially if the president doesn't re-energize the Tweet-machine — is anyone's guess. Now, what's happening off it arguably is more concerning for the owners and the league.
We mentioned yesterday that we know a lot of everyday people who have now said they are turning off the NFL because they do not want social commentary and everyday, real-life problems in places they go for entertainment and escape.
That's their right.
Now comes the measured responses from the representatives of folks who are truly outraged by the protests happening in front of the flag and during the anthem. And while we have all seen the responses from Pat Tillman's widow, because that one supports the choice of the players to protest, which certainly is their right. But the actions and feelings of those offended — and no, no one is against equality but a lot of us are against the time of when these protests happen — has been somewhat under reported.
On the other side of Mrs. Tillman's open letter comes this from Taya Kyle, the widow of Chris Kyle, who was the real-life character in American Sniper.
Also know that members of the American Legion and the VFW have issued strong statements against the protests during the anthem. (Including a particularly strong statement from a long-time military vet that he "stands for the flag and kneels for the dead.")
Now, add that Direct TV is offering credits to customers looking to cancel the NFL Sunday Ticket to people offended by the protests. Wonder how many people are quitting fantasy football, too.
Because let's be really clear here: NFL players, like all Americans, have the right to peacefully protest or make statements without fear of prosecution. That's the Freedom of Speech guaranteed by the Constitution.
But that freedom does not allow grant the freedom of interpretation. Nor the freedom of fallout, and if the NFL does not get its hands around the PR of this — be internally, externally, or somewhere in between — the league will lose more and more viewers and fans by the week.
Road to Atlanta
Midweek from now until the end of the college season, we'll start putting out our top-four college football teams if we had a vote on the college football playoff committee. Yes, lots of other things play into this — and we are a long way away from knowing the conference champions — but here's the best four in our eyes by what they's done on the field.
Why: Road win at ranked Louisville. Home win against ranked Auburn. Each was in the top 15 win the Tigers toppled them.
Why: The Sooners' win at THE Ohio State ranks a step above TCU's win at Oklahoma State as the best of the season.
Why: Sheer dominance. Remember, the Tide hammered FSU when it was No. 3 in the country, and while that win will get watered down when FSU finishes 7-5, that was a legit Seminoles bunch.
Why: The Bulldogs have two wins over ranked foes, and crushed a surging Mississippi State team.
This and that
— The Dodgers clinched homefield through the National League playoffs. Can we say a quick prayer of thanks that they changed that stupid All-Star winner gets homefield in the World Series rule?
— Dwyane Wade to Cleveland. Color me shocked. Shocked I say. Shocked.
— Tennessee welcomes Georgia to Neyland on Saturday. Tip of the cap to ESPN's Chris Lowe for this stat we saw on Twitter: UT has not beaten an AP top-10 team since beating then-10th-ranked Georgia 37-20 in Knoxville. The year? That would be partying like it was 1999. In 1999, gas nationally was $1.22 a gallon, Sponge Bob Square Pants premiered, Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France, the Columbine shootings happened, Brandi Chastain took her top off after winning the World Cup for the U.S.A., MySpace was introduced, Napster was released,
BlueTooth was announced and we were worried about Y2K. So there's that.
We are way, Way, WAY behind today. (Yes, that's a lot of words above.)
Let's go here: We'll do either/or on a Wednesday.
Either the Dodgers or the rest of the National League to get to the World Series.
Either this year's Cavs roster with Wade, Thomas and Rose or last year's Cavs roster with Kyrie.
Either Georgia or Tennessee on Saturday. (This was Tuesday's ESPN 105.1 the Zone poll question, and we thought it was a good one.)
As for the day, let's review: John Adams negotiated peace terms with Great Britain to end the Revolutionary War on this day in 1779.
In 1905, Einstein dropped the most famous equation in science, E=mc(squared).
In 1908, the first Model T left the Ford plant in Detroit.
In 1954, the Tonight Show debuted with Steve Allen as its host.
Let's go there.
Rushmore of TV talf-show hosts. Go. (And remember the mailbag.)