Wiedmer: College basketball is in a big heap of trouble

Wiedmer: College basketball is in a big heap of trouble

September 27th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

McCallie Coach John Shulman shouts to players during their prep basketball game at Baylor School on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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No one on the planet may have a more unique perspective on the latest toxic waste dump to engulf major college basketball than McCallie coach John Shulman.

Not only was Shulman the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head coach for nine seasons and an assistant at multiple Division I schools before then, but the midwinter Dr Pepper Ten Classic that McCallie staged for a second straight year last February included the La Lumiere School in Indiana.

That last connection is important because La Lumiere featured prep All-American Brian Bowen, whose family was alleged on Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York to have accepted $100,000 this past summer in exchange for him signing with the University of Louisville, as well as Bowen ultimately using sports agent Christian Dawkins and financial adviser Munish Sood as representatives should he reach the NBA.

"This isn't surprising at all," Shulman said when reached by phone Tuesday afternoon. "The only surprise is that a story like this hasn't surfaced sooner."

Though neither Louisville nor Bowen are mentioned by name in the filing, he was the only prep All-American to sign with an Adidas-sponsored school (U of L) on or about June 3, as noted in the documents, which apparently refer to Bowen as "Player 10" and Louisville as "School 6."

Moreover, that signing came out of nowhere, as Bowen had never mentioned the Cardinals as a possible destination until he signed with them.

Yet as disastrous as those charges, if proven true, might become for Louisville and Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino — given that the school is already appealing severe NCAA sanctions for having admitted to using prostitutes and strippers to lure past recruits — the Bowen saga was far from the only bombshell delivered jointly by U.S. Attorney Joon Kim and the FBI during a Tuesday news conference.

No fewer than four well-known major college assistant coaches — including Auburn associate head coach Chuck Person — have been charged along with six others (including Dawkins and Sood) on crimes ranging from wire fraud to corruption.

Person and the other three assistants — Southern Cal's Tony Bland, Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans and Arizona's Book Richardson — subsequently have been suspended from their schools and arrested. According to ESPN, the U.S. Department of Justice said each of the coaches faces a maximum sentence of 80 years in prison, if convicted.

In simplifying the charges for the public, Kim said, "College coaches took cash bribes from managers and advisers in exchange for directing players and their families to those bribers."

He also said, "The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one."

The picture for all of college basketball going forward could become far uglier. For now, this is mostly aimed at shoe giant Adidas and a handful of big-time assistants. But it surely will expand to include Nike at some point as well as Under Armour. The resulting carnage could deliver an unofficial death penalty to the sport as we know it today.

Or as FBI assistant director Bill Sweeney warmed Tuesday with words that are scarier than any slasher film ever made for most of the college game's movers and shakers: "Today's arrests should serve as a warning to others choosing to conduct business this way in the world of college athletics. We have your playbook. Our investigation is ongoing. And we are conducting additional interviews, as I speak."

Shulman knows the drill, how the shoe giants woo exceptional young talent early, then hope to hold tight to the best ones when they reach the NBA.

"Some of those Adidas (travel) teams are better funded than half the schools in the Southern Conference," he said. "It's a corrupt business because there is so much money at stake. I don't know that it's any worse than in the old days, but it's a lot more sophisticated than it used to be."

Pitino should be the first to have a figurative stake driven through his heart. Having somehow survived being blackmailed for an illicit affair and still on the job after "Hooker-gate," this third strike should not only end his coaching career but send Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich packing as well.

But at least one former college coach knows enough to know that this is one FBI investigation that's far closer to its beginning than its end.

"I would say," Shulman noted, "that there are a whole lot of very nervous college basketball coaches out there right now."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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