Candid Coaches: College basketball recruiting isn't getting any cleaner

CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander spent the July evaluation period at NCAA-sanctioned events, where they talked with coaches from all levels. They asked for honest opinions on players, coaches and issues in the sport. They'll be sharing those opinions over a three-week period.

Nothing is more common on the summer circuit than whispers about who's doing what to get a prospect. The stories are typically vague. But the point is always the same -- that somebody did something to ensure this recruit committed to that school. With that in mind, we asked more than 100 college coaches the following:

Is college basketball recruiting cleaner or dirtier than it was five years ago?

Cleaner 14 percent
Dirtier 37 percent
About the same 49 percent
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FIVE QUOTES THAT STOOD OUT

  • "The cheating is worse. But I think the big-name coaches are less involved because they don't have to be involved anymore. They're always three steps removed from it. They just benefit from a system that's in place. I could tell you how this big-name school got this kid and how that big-name school got that kid. But I really don't think the coaches at those schools are throwing around cash. They're just letting a friendly agent or a shoe-company executive do the cheating for them."
  • "Cheating has become more sophisticated because of shoe companies and agents. I'm not sure how much cash in bags is being dropped off. But people are still getting taken care of. I think 99 percent of the top-tier prospects have agents and/or shoe companies involved."
  • "College coaches are aligned with AAU coaches or agents, and they work through them. And you know when some coaches get involved with prospects, it's not worth it to recruit them any longer because certain coaches will cheat or pull out all the stops to get a recruit. And agents and runners are connected to all the AAU programs in some fashion. ... It's a broken system."
  • "I'd say the cheating is about the same. It's just different now. But you're out in July. How many runners for agents did you see sitting in the parents' section at events? They're all over the place. They get their claws in the kids early, then they steer the kids to a school where they have a cozy relationship with the coach. That's how it's been for a while, and I think it'll basically be that way forever."
  • "I think now you have the sneaker companies and the AAU coaches wheeling and dealing, and the club coaches are getting paid to steer kids. Whether it's an agent or a shoe company behind it, somebody is paying somebody. It's been going on forever. Guys are making money off these kids and where they go to college."
  • MY TAKEAWAY

    As the poll shows, only a small fraction of coaches we contacted told us recruiting is cleaner today than it was five years ago -- meaning the overwhelming majority believe things are, at best, about the same and, at worst, well, worse. What's most interesting, though, is that almost everybody thinks the cheating is ... different.

    Once upon a time, as the stories go, cheating was done with shoe boxes of cash. A booster might buy a car. A mom might somehow end up with a new living room suit. I mean, you've seen Blue Chips, right?

    And, absolutely, I'm sure things still get done the old-fashioned way, in certain cases; it would be naive to think otherwise. But what we consistently heard from coaches is that cheating is now so layered and sophisticated at the highest levels of the sport that it's hard to pinpoint exactly who's behind what.

    But somebody is usually behind something.

    Most coaches acknowledged that.

    And they told us the biggest difference between now and five years ago is that agents and shoe companies are influencing the decisions of elite prospects more than ever. Most coaches insist about 80 percent of the nation's top 10 players, in any given year, are already tied to an agent before they ever even step on a college campus because agents are often deeply connected to some of the top summer programs. Hypothetically speaking, of course, an agent might guide a prospect over which he has influence to a school that employs a coach he trusts with the understanding that the coach will protect the asset. Meantime, it's rarely a coincidence when a prospect who spends his summers playing for a Nike-funded team ends up on visits to Nike-sponsored schools. Same goes for kids with Under Armour connections. Same goes for kids tied to Adidas.

    Which leads to the following question: is that really cheating?

    Undeniably, these are ways in which coaches gain advantages on the recruiting trail. But what these types of deals often do is give coaches the ability to look in the mirror and swear they didn't cheat to get a prospect even when, deep down, they know they got the prospect because there were outside forces working for them.

    Either way, recruiting will never be completely on the up and up.

    Trust that.

    As long as there are coaches getting paid millions of dollars to win, there will be coaches willing to do whatever is necessary to get the types of players it takes to win. It really is that simple. And the fact that many elite prospects come from less-fortunate backgrounds, combined with the fact that some are controlled by people who literally make their living hustling players, means a market will forever exist.

    Bottom line, the cheating will evolve.

    It always does.

    But it's not ever going away.

    CBS Sports Insider

    Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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