CBSSports.com's college basketball quartet spent the July open recruiting period hobnobbing with nearly 100 coaches, brain-picking them on some of college basketball's current issues. From the best players to their comrades in coaching; from the AAU programs to the agents' involvement; from the rule changes to the NCAA as a whole. We had to promise them anonymity, and in exchange, they gave us honest answers. Over the next three weeks here on the blog, we'll be putting out one question per weekday and giving you the array of results, straight from the coaches' mouths.
People often talk about "cleaning up college basketball," but nobody ever really considers if it's a realistic proposition. I mean, winning lots of games earns coaches millions of dollars, and the best way to win lots of games is to get lots of good players. Which means good players are very literally worth lots of money. Which means some people are forever going to be tempted to do whatever necessary to get those good players.
And it's the NCAA's job to stop them.
But can the NCAA even do it?
We asked a bunch of coaches for their thoughts.
The question is: Do coaches believe the NCAA is good enough at catching and punishing cheaters to create a level playing field?
- Yes: 11 percent
- No: 89 percent
Quotes that stuck:
"Is that a serious question?"
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"Absolutely not. There is like a staff of four vs. 300-plus schools of the most knowledgeable and creative people in the world. They know how to break these rules."
"I'm not even sure they even want to create a level playing field."
"The NCAA catches who they want to catch. They're not messing with the 'money programs.'"
"On the surface, yes. But in reality ... no. It's a fraternity-type business the NCAA has with the bigger schools."
"Most cheaters get caught because they slip in one area that leads to a lie in another area. The NCAA didn't catch them; they slipped up."
"I once talked with a higher-up at the NCAA and was told if I could find out about a program breaking the rules, I should report them. So now I have to be a private detective and college coach? There is something wrong with that."
"At the end of the day, your own people catch you. If your compliance people are looking the other way, you're good."
"Unfortunately, no. But what you have to understand is that catching cheaters isn't easy to do. NCAA investigators have a hard job."
Takeaway (Gary Parrish):
Let me start by telling you that I know the members of the NCAA's Basketball Focus Group that's in charge of investigating recruiting improprieties, and I genuinely believe they have a pretty good understanding of how and where cheating gets done. They know most of the names behind the scenes. They know most of the tricks coaches use to make things happen. They could tell you 50 stories about how they think a certain recruit ended up at a certain school just like I could tell you 50 stories about how I think a certain recruit ended up at a certain school. We all hear stories. Some of them would blow your mind.
But proving those stories is really difficult.
And therein lies the problem.
Cheating has become so sophisticated on some levels that even when investigators know what's happening they usually can't do much about it, and cash transactions are still nearly impossible to trace. Also: The NCAA does not have subpoena power. Sometimes folks forget that. And what are the NCAA investigators supposed to do about the perceived influence shoe companies play in recruiting when the reality is that shoe companies aren't technically violating any NCAA rules when they steer kids to one school or another? And even if the shoe companies were violating NCAA rules, do you think the NCAA would ever allow its investigators to seriously target shoe companies?
Not. A. Chance.
(What's that they say about not biting the hand that feeds you?)
Beyond that, the NCAA in general has a credibility problem, which more than one coach mentioned to us. Fair or not, there is a belief among some coaches that traditional powers are rarely targeted, and that even when they are the punishment doesn't fit the so-called crime. Connecticut is the best recent example. The Huskies were caught using a booster-turned-agent armed with improper benefits to secure a commitment from a prospect, but Jim Calhoun's program still did not get a postseason ban. Meantime, UCF was caught using a third-party recruiter to secure a commitment from a prospect, and Donnie Jones' program did get a postseason ban.
So Connecticut was slapped on the wrist while UCF was punched in the nose.
Nobody seems to understand why.
Bottom line, we basically have three camps of coaches -- one camp that believes NCAA investigators simply aren't equipped to create a level playing field, another camp that believes NCAA investigators don't even want to create a level playing field, and another camp that believes the punishments delivered to the few cheaters who are actually caught cheating aren't delivered in a consistent and honest manner to create a level playing field.
I think I agree with some of the coaches about some of those things. But if the question is whether a level playing field will ever exist, let the record show I'm with the 89 percent polled who believe it will not. We don't all have this opinion for the same reasons, but we do all have this opinion for valid reasons.
Coming Friday: Which coach would fellow coaches pick to start a Division I program?