What coaches really think after top players were linked to college basketball's scandal
CBS Sports reached out to coaches across the country to get their reaction to Friday's huge news
On Friday, college basketball coaches across the country were captivated by Yahoo Sports' revealing report that uncovered that has greased the wheels of the sport for decades.
But although the details of the report provided some surprising names and varying monetary payments for different activities or trips, the actions depicted in the documents are not a surprise to most in the industry.
"As you know, there's leeches everywhere," a coach from the Midwest said. "This s--- is just a web of s---."
A Pac-12 coach chimed in: "Every single time it's these leeches and these hangers-on who bring these kids down. And these kids are the ones who are the most innocent. We're holding college athletes consistently to a higher standard than adults."
CBS Sports spoke with seven active head and assistant coaches throughout Friday to get a sense of how their fraternity has been rocked by the story in question. All were given the option to speak on the record. All declined, many of them citing the fact that they've been asked to not publicly speak on the story overtaking college basketball.
"Everyone -- everybody -- is trying to find out a) what the f-- is going on, b) who did what and c) what to do about it," one coach said.
And in the wake of Friday's news events, a lot of coaches are clamming up or are hesitant to be critical primarily because guys like Tony Bennett -- whose reputation is pristine -- have players or players' family members named in the Yahoo Sports report.
"There's no chance," a coach from a top-25 program said in reference to Bennett partaking in any kind of cheating. "None. None. None."
Malcolm Brogdon's mother has already gone on the record to discredit the allegation. In doing so, she brings to light the reality that just because some players' names are on a supposed expense report, it doesn't convict them or mean their programs are doomed for NCAA discipline. But the point is, a lot of coaches now don't want speak out against this issue publicly for fear of it coming back to bite them. Maybe they had a player take a few meetings with agents and had meals paid for. (If so, the coaches don't want to be seen in the future as hypocrites, even if they had no knowledge of such behavior.)
"You look at Malcolm, the coaches didn't set that up," one Big 12 coach said. "The coaches didn't get Malcolm because of that. The big difference is if you utilized Andy Miller in the recruiting process to get [a player]."
You can easily make the argument that this is a dumb rule in the first place, but it's a rule nonetheless and it's one that could impact some coaches and programs going forward.
"I think there are a lot of coaches, when this whole thing broke and how everyone assumes that anybody mentioned is guilty," said a coach whose school has been involved with the FBI, "and you listen to very successful head coaches that have got on their high horse about whatever statements they made individually, to now see that a lot of this stuff is coming out about their programs. Well, what do you have to say? What do you have to say now? People were too quick to rush to judgment. I'm not just saying those coaches, but I think some of our administration and the way everybody in society is. It's like you're guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around."
CBS Sports also reached out to former Indiana coach Tom Crean, who spoke on the record. Without a team to coach, Crean has no one to answer to. It's an important distinction between him and others who asked not to be named.
"Any time something like this comes out there's a complete 'wow' factor to it, especially when you're seeing names and numbers," Crean said. "It's sad on many levels and it's sickening at the core of it. It really is. And at the same time, when you're involved in it, as long as someone like me has been or others are, you know that is not even potentially close to the only instance where these things could have or did happen. You'd love to say, 'This is a really isolated situation,' but I think anyone that's in this knows that it's not. You could be probably be changing a lot of names and you could be changing on all different levels. You could be putting another name here, another name there."
Crean's words were echoed by almost every coach CBS Sports spoke to. As in: We're only seeing a small portion.
"It's minuscule when you talk about meals and stuff like that, but when you start talking about thousands of dollars?" one coach at a school in California said. "They're only talking about Andy Miller! You know how many more agents are out there and operating in the same way? That's what's funny. They think it's one agency? Come on now."
Miller and his company (ASM) were busted by the feds, but it's almost universally accepted that many other agents and their offices would have been just as vulnerable if they were raided. Plenty coaches and their assistant are thankful that the FBI's investigation -- widespread as it purports to be -- is still fairly narrow in the macrocosm of college basketball.
Crean has publicly and privately lamented over the years about the lack of consistency and ability for the NCAA to punish coaches and programs who navigate the murky waters. But even he admits that lording over a program to the point that no player or a player's family ever so much as gets a meal paid by an agent, runner or otherwise, is nearly impossible.
"I'm not naive enough to think I coached all these years and nothing happened -- that would be completely stupid," Crean said, then added, "Do a lot of things have to change? Yes they do. Are there going to be instances where coaches had no idea something of those things were going on? Absolutely. Are there going to be instances where coaches were involved behind the scenes, a couple layers removed? Absolutely."
Given the impact of the story, some are wondering if the bigger-name coaches are long for their jobs. Friday's news is only the latest onslaught in the past four-plus months of rough press for a number of high-profile names.
"Guys like, and I'm throwing this guy's name in, like Sean Miller and Tom Izzo: how many more bullets can they take?" one coach said. "For me it's an interesting deal. You have some Hall of Fame coaches obviously. It stretches all gamuts. It's Utah, it's Wichita State, it's Michigan State, it's Duke. It touches all gamuts with guys who've had great success with their programs. To me, it becomes a deal now. What do institutions do? We've seen what USC did with (De'Anthony) Melton early. We've seen what Auburn did with their kids. Do institutions say, 'You know what, we're too far into the season. We've got Miles Bridges and can make the Final Four.'"
As of late Friday, Michigan State had not decided whether or not Bridges would play this weekend. Kentucky coach John Calipari said he expected star freshman Kevin Knox to play on Saturday. And Duke announced that it vetted Wendell Carter's situation and deemed him not a risk for NCAA eligibility. He will play in Duke's game Saturday against Syracuse.
But Carter's situation, like Brogdon's, are why coaches have concern about how this story will shape the perception of the sport. Their feeling is that a lot of people will choose not to differentiate between the potential violations that the documents reveal. There is a huge difference between a parent or a prospect getting a meal picked up at P.F. Chang's vs. having tens of thousands of dollars loaned to you, which purportedly is the case with former NC State player Dennis Smith Jr.
"My initial reaction is, OK, hang on here," another coach said. "Just because a kid went out to dinner or whatever, that's totally different than getting $63,000. And grouping them all together, it just seems, not all of us read every story all the way through. 'Carolina's in, Virginia's in, all these cheating bastards! So-and-so made an ATM withdrawal.' Well, wait a second. How do you know that ATM withdrawal went to who? If you can show where $63,000 or $37,000 went, that's huge. That big and that's obviously been going on."
The same coach referenced a conversation he had with a former NBA coach who has heard that a recent lottery pick received a six-figure payment to play college basketball.
"I guess I'm doing a little bit of selective morality," that coach said. "But there's egregious ones and then there's ones, like, I don't know how you could keep your guys from going out to dinner with agents."
To be clear, players are allowed to share meals with agents. It only becomes a violation if a player has the agent pay for the meal or provide anything of monetary or material value that falls under the NCAA's definition of an impermissible benefit.
"The funny thing about this is, the NCAA is in the dark," that same coach said.
But the FBI might be to an extent as well. One coach who spoke to CBS Sports, whose program has been in contact with the FBI, said that the investigation has not been as buttoned-up or well-rounded as some might believe.
"I look forward to the day when they'll have to say they've moved on from us," he said. "I think a lot of people have a very big misconception about this investigation about how thorough these people have been and are. That's the only thing I'll say. Before all this happened, if ever I would have saw anything where the FBI is involved I would have been like, 'Oh, that person did it.' I was one of those people. But going through it, I will forever, for the rest of my life, I will wait until more of the facts come out. I will never rush to judge on anybody because this whole thing."
The coach later said: "I don't wish anyone to go through what we've gone through, because it's taken years off our lives here."
While college basketball undoubtedly has its warts, coaches are not pinning most of what came on Friday on the players. In part because they understand the kids they recruit, but also because a lot of them were once recruits themselves.
"To me there's two distinctive differences," one veteran coach said in laying out how agents work the waters. "One is a coach talking to an agent and saying, 'Hey, I need him to visit, give him 5 grand, I'll get him back to you,' all that kind of stuff. And the other is this the other stuff we're seeing here. It's different. … The general public thinks a coach knows everything. How many parents know what their kids are doing every weekend?"
The kids are the ones whose names have been put front and center. Miles Bridges has become one of the faces of this scandal because his mother might have taken $400 from Christian Dawkins, in addition to Dawkins marking down on an expense report spreadsheet that he paid $70.05 for Bridges' parents' meals at a place called Redwood Lodge.
And often times, as this story is proving, players' parents or representatives are sitting down with agents well before those players either commit to a school or officially enroll at a university. Again, there is a wide gulf between that and an agent luring a player to a school, or to his own company for future business, by loaning him tens of thousands of dollars.
Some coaches believe Friday's news highlights a fundamental flaw with the NCAA's rulebook. Speaking on Bridges, one coach mused on how what Michigan State is going through at this moment is a depressing commentary on where attention and blame often gets wrongly assigned with stories like this.
"If there was a $70 dinner and $400 [payment] it would be a classic case of what goes on in this business," he said. "You prey on poor families, and we'll say African-American families, and for what? Because their son can play and can make you a dollar. It can make you money. It's disgusting. It's truly disgusting. But nonetheless here we are. We sit, we worry, and we wait."
We may soon find out how serious these details really are, or what they mean to the NCAA, because amid all the noise this story has created, one thing is critical to keep in mind: not one coach is connected to any of the transactions depicted in the seized documents. And yet the fact that so many coaches won't go on the record about this speaks to how spooked they still are. But a lot of questions still await answers, and now here comes the white hot spotlight of March.
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