Part of me feels awful for Sean Miller. The full story of the fallout from the FBI investigation into college hoops is far from being written, but it feels like Miller's chapter in this story will end with him never coaching another game for Arizona.
Perhaps he'll never even coach another game in college basketball. That's what you'd think could happen to a man who has according to recent reports caught in a DeAndre Ayton.to secure star freshman
And that's a huge bummer. Because I believed Miller to be a coach who'd someday end up in the Hall of Fame. The man lives and breathes this sport. He's a basketball savant. I know this is where you are going to say, "But he's never made a Final Four!" Sure – but he is bound to make a Final Four at Arizona. Plenty of Final Fours. He's been at the door so many times already; at some point, he was going to break through.
Or he was bound to make a Final Four at Arizona. On Saturday, his school announced Oregon. We may never see him on the collegiate sidelines again. I'm imagining him stewing alone in a hotel room in Eugene, Oregon, wondering if this will be the end of his career, and yeah, I do feel bad for him. It's how I'd feel if a teenager got arrested for underage drinking but the friends he was drinking with got away with it. (Yes, I understand Miller is a grown man. An imperfect analogy.)at
It appears clear from the slow release of leaks from this FBI investigation (and as also appears clear from anyone who has followed the shady sideshow of shoe companies and agents in youth basketball and college basketball), Miller was not the only one cheating. He's just the most recent one to get caught.
But my sympathy can only extend so far for Miller. If he never works again, he'll be set for life. He was making $2.9 million a year at Arizona, ostensibly with the job of coaching "amateur" basketball players.indicates he'll be given $10 million if he's fired for cause and $5 million if he's fired for no reason. There's no crying in the mansion.
Ultimately, the coaches who lose their careers over breaking the rules were corrupt actors in a corrupt system. I don't care what you think about the NCAA -- I certainly think amateurism is an antiquated system, and that players should be getting a fair share of their market value in this capitalist country. The one good thing that could come out of this sordid mess is for college basketball (indeed, all of college sports) to start over from scratch on how amateurism should work in the 21st century. The system is certainly broken. But these millionaire coaches have long benefited from this broken and corrupt system. So if they have been breaking the rules of this broken system, they should be punished for it. Period.
I feel completely different about the players.
I don't care whether we're talking about a $100,000 payment to a star player or a lunch with an agent that a star player may or may not have paid for. We should all feel a little dirty when a player like, say, USC's DeAnthony Melton is held out of his entire sophomore season of college basketball ( ) for his part in this FBI investigation. We should all feel a little dirty that the names of some of these collegiate stars – Miles Bridges at Michigan State, Kevin Knox at Kentucky, Wendell Carter at Duke – are now getting dirtied for being named in this scandal whether they did or did not accept money or meals from an agent. You can argue that these young men knew they were breaking the rules. You can argue that they are grown men, and should be punished for breaking the rules just like the coaches should be punished for breaking the rules. And you can argue that they're going to be just fine no matter what; Deandre Ayton is going to be a multimillionaire even if he never plays another college game. So are most of these young men.
And you know what? You're probably right. Rules are rules, even when the rules are antiquated and dumb. Break the rules, and you should be punished.
But I feel awful for every player named in these FBI reports. These are talented young men who were sucked into this system as teenagers. They certainly knew, at least generally, the cavorting with the shady characters around college basketball was against college basketball's rules. And yet they certainly intuited that those rules weren't really enforced. If it seemed like everyone else was doing something that was against the rules, and if it seemed like there wouldn't be any punishment for taking, say, $100,000, and it if didn't seem like breaking those rules would hurt anybody, wouldn't you break those rules?
I certainly would consider it.
Things are changing rapidly in college basketball. If a player takes $100,000 from an agent this summer, I'm not going to feel sorry for him one bit. That's just dumb. The rules might be the same in the future as they are in the past, but this FBI investigation shows us those rules are actually going to matter – actually be enforced – in a way they have never been enforced before.
But the players who got sucked into this corrupt system as teenagers and now, months later, are being publicly excoriated for their role? Sorry, everybody. Yes, these players may have broken rules. But if you don't feel awful about their names being dragged in the mud, you're just heartless.