College sports stumble into predictable mess as corruption scandal engulfs nation

A spate of arrests following an FBI probe has laid bare the vulnerability of young athletes in the US, and the corruption involved in college sports recruiting.

Steve Brenner
by Steve Brenner
2nd October 2017

article:2nd October 2017

Louisville's Rick Pitino is the most high-profile figure involved in the scandal.
Louisville's Rick Pitino is the most high-profile figure involved in the scandal.

America’s worst kept sporting secret has been sensationally laid bare.

College sports here are utterly unique – where else in the world does a nation take such a vested interest in the trials and tribulations of a university team?

It’s an utterly alien concept and one which is hard for many outside of the US to understand.

The system is great in principle – the best basketballers and football players will make it to the pros.

Students – and let’s not forget that’s what they are supposed to be – are given the full superstar treatment even if for at least 75 per cent, the dream will come shuddering to an end once their degree in Dance Science or Extreme House Painting are finished.

With the attention comes money. Absolutely loads of it. Sponsorships, TV deals, merchandise. It’s a multi-billion industry with all sorts of agendas in play for universities at both ends of the scale.

Just as the likes of Michigan State or Georgia want the funds to make their football programmes even stronger, so too do the smaller schools push for the dollar to help their own students and staff.

That’s the only way to explain why small colleges take on powerhouses at football and get routinely thrashed 70-0 while endangering the health of their completely overmatched players.

Yet, therein lies the problem and the root cause for an FBI investigation which has unearthed severe financial irregularity and corruption at schools up and down the land.

Oklahoma State is one of the big-ticket programs named in the scandal.

Oklahoma State is one of the big-ticket programs named in the scandal.

“I’m just surprised it took people this long to find out,” said one unnamed former college hoops player last week.

Oh, well everyone knows now.

Following the revelations last week, 10 arrests were immediately made which saw four assistant coaches accused of attempting to bribe players to come and play for them. A footwear company executive has also been thrown into the mix while highly respected Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has quit and is being questioned by the authorities.

The backstory is straight out of Hollywood and once (if) the dust settles, it will make a rip-roaring blockbuster.

Think Donnie Brasco wearing a pair of Air Jordans.

Back in 2016, agent Marty Blazer, who founded Blazer Capital Management, was charged with wire fraud after conning one of his players out of $550,000 (Dh2m).

After reportedly being told by the athlete to forget about using his money to fund a film project, the man tasked with guiding the athlete’s future allegedly dipped into his bank account.

It gets worse. When the player confronted Blazer, he apparently extracted the funds from another client and paid him back.

Blazer was also accused of illegally paying others to work with fellow agents and financial advisors.

On August 4, Blazer reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office on a number of fraud-related charges.

As a deal breaker, Blazer teamed up with the FBI to help them work on corruption. Meetings were arranged, Blazer would turn up with a hidden camera and secret mic.

And then, like a house of cards, everything began tumbling down.

Former NCAA and NBA ref Rashan Michel and Auburn coach Chuck Person were both caught in the crossfire – Blazer reportedly had Person agree to accept $50,000 (Dh183,000) in bribes.

During another meeting , a player from Auburn met with Blazer who had Person in tow.

“The most important thing is that you…don’t say nothing to nobody. …But don’t share with your sisters, don’t share with any of the team-mates, that’s very important cause this is a violation…of rules, but this is how the NBA players get it done,” Person is reported to have said. How the feds must have smiled as that beauty came over the wires.

So what started out as a delve into a white collar criminal’s nefarious activities unwittingly led the FBI to uncover a dark side of college sports. For too long wealthy colleges have taken advantage of students to help monetise their own establishments with little regard for their futures.

Remember, most will never make it as pros yet receive no payment for taking part in often gruelling sporting schedules which allow them a free education but ultimately no future.

What a horrible, all too predictable, mess.