During my junior year of high school, around the time I turned 17-years-old, I decided to play college soccer. I was coming off a season in which I more than tripled my goal total from the first two years combined and I began receiving interest from local colleges. Later that spring, I began taking trips to visit these schools. I would tour the school and talk to coaches. Afterward, I would be handed off to the players of the team, oftentimes freshmen or sophomores, and spend the night with them to get a sense of what the specific college was actually like. However, if I had been a highly ranked Division I basketball recruit, things would have taken an interesting turn.
According to a recent report by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines,” a former Louisville men’s basketball assistant coach paid for sex and stripper parties for players and recruits. For many, this came as shocking news. Yet, for others, this information has been a long time coming and represents just the tip of an iceberg possibly large enough to sink the Titanic that is the mighty NCAA.
Within the “Outside the Lines” report, it explained that five former players and recruits for the University of Louisville basketball team said that Andre McGee, a former assistant coach, paid for strippers to appear at almost 24 parties from 2010-2014. Apparently, one of the former players said that he even went as far as having sex with a stripper and that the assistant coach paid for it. This is not an isolated incident with NCAA recruits. In October, the NCAA gave UL-Lafayette a notice of allegations about the football team. These allegations centered around another former assistant coach, David Saunders, and how he allegedly arranged for ACT supervisors to take the tests for the recruits or to change some of the recruits’ answers so that they would obtain passing scores.
Even former Michigan and NBA player, Jalen Rose, recently explained, “What you see at a bachelor or bachelorette party is what happens on a recruiting visit.”
Rose was a highly recruited high school athlete who took numerous visits to top basketball colleges across the country. On his own podcast, Rose further explained his recruiting process and how he narrowed down his college choices.
“And as a 17-year-old kid, first off, if I’m not getting laid, I’m not coming. I’m not signing,” he said on his podcast.
These stories illustrate everything that is wrong with the NCAA and the current culture surrounding the organization, especially within the context of its Division I athletics. Division II and III most likely have their share of problems, as well. However, the fact that the most money is changing hands within Division I makes it the biggest problem. And that’s what this all boils down to – money. Because basketball and football programs bring in the most money for a college or university, there is an increased risk and reward of skirting around the rules in order to be able to field the best team possible during the season. But just how much money is actually at stake here?
In 2014, Forbes reported that the Texas Longhorn football program was worth the most money in the nation, an incredible $131 million with $34 million received from ticket sales and another $31 million from football-related contributions. In a similar report for basketball teams, Forbes named the Louisville Cardinals the most valuable basketball team in the nation worth about $39.5 million in 2014. The program received $12 million from ticket sales and around $21 million from basketball contributions, as well. Plus, the NCAA and conference distributes money based on performance and the team has received an additional $6 million.
All of these revenue streams are based on one thing for each program – a school’s record. Is it any coincidence that Louisville, the school making the highest amount of money across all divisions for basketball for the past three years, has qualified for three NCAA Elite Eights and two NCAA Final Fours during that time? Highly doubtful. The further a team makes it in the NCAA tournament during the season, the more money that program receives for its school. Therefore, the school puts a large amount of pressure on their sports programs, especially the two “moneymakers,” basketball and football. The athletic director then puts increased pressure on the head coaches of these teams. To keep their jobs, the coaches are expected to field a competitive team year in and year out. Teams that the alumni can be proud of so that, in turn, they will open their wallets toward the school. With the amount of money available from donors and alumni falling within millions of dollars, it is no wonder that there are so many problems within the system. It is an unhealthy cycle in which skirting the line pays off and is, essentially, rewarded. Notice how the head coaches are never the ones being caught in these plots. Coincidence?
After something like what is occurring at Louisville comes into the public’s attention, someone has to be blamed and fired to appease the masses. Usually in these cases, it is one of the assistant coaches who takes the fall after which the school will apologize profusely. Then, it is back to business as usual as the program will look for other ways to gain competitive recruiting advantages. It only takes one or two “can’t miss” players in order to completely turn around a program’s fortunes. Because of this, programs will continue to push their chips to the middle of the table in order to have a chance at convincing players of this variety to join their team. The recruiting system as a whole is broken— that much is obvious. What is not as clear is what the solution to this issue should be.
According to The State Press, the solutions should include the NCAA monitoring and restricting the types of recruiting events that recruits are able to participate in, as well as interviewing recruits and recruiters on a consistent basis in order to make sure that the recruiting process is going according to rules and restrictions. If a school is found to be skirting around these rules, though, then the punishment should be swift and severe with a complete no-tolerance policy. An increased amount of attention placed on the recruiting process and its participants would create a more positive environment not only for recruits and players, but also the coaches and management too. This would create somewhat more of a level playing field for all schools as they attempt to recruit high school athletes.
Of course, with 347 schools represented in NCAA Division I alone, solutions to this issue will never be perfect. However, redoing the entire recruiting system will be the only way to have a positive effect on the recruiting process and transform it into the squeaky clean procedure that the NCAA already wants everyone to believe it is. An overhaul would certainly be more effective than the constant Band-Aids that the NCAA is currently doling out in hopes that schools might learn from their mistakes. Like toddlers, though, if the punishment is not severe enough and there is no incentive to adjust their actions, then the behavior will not change. The same is true for NCAA schools. The NCAA must give these schools a reason to change and incentive to make it less about how they can help their own money-making schemes and more about how they can aid each individual player in their process of deciding where they want to spend their next four years of college. A new recruiting system in which each school fairly represented their respective programs to these teenagers and their parents?
Now that would be something to celebrate.