It was September of 2917 and a news conference in New York led me and a lot of others to believe that the lid was about to be blown off college basketball and perhaps even the NCAA itself:
“All of those charged today contributed to a pay-to-play culture that has no business in college basketball,” Bill Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said at the Sept. 2017 news conference announcing the arrests of (Christian) Dawkins and nine others. “Today’s arrests should serve as a warning to others … We have your playbook.”
Well, that playbook stayed on the FBI’s shelf, it seems. And a documentary called “The Scheme,” which made its debut Tuesday night on HBO, didn’t answer the questions I’ve been looking to answer for all these months:
-- Why did the FBI choose to target college basketball and spend a boatload of taxpayer money on an investigation, apparently just to find out what most of us already knew -- that the sport is full of cheating.
-- And why didn’t any of the high-profile coaches ever get charged with a crime, or even be brought to court to testify? In the end, Dawkins, a former runner for agent Andy Miller, took the hardest fall.
The documentary runs two hours, which felt maybe 30 minutes too long, but was interesting.
Of particular interest was the recording of a phone call, said to be involving Dawkins and Arizona Coach Sean Miller, in which the coach asks Dawkins what it will take to get then-high school star Nassir Little to Arizona. And Miller doesn’t seem at all worried that the University of Miami is also bidding for the current Trail Blazer forward at the same time.
It was obvious from the phone conversation that whatever money was to be paid to deliver Little was going to be paid to his AAU coaches in Orlando. Little ended up going to North Carolina. Little and his father signed sworn affidavits that they were never approached with offers of money from Miami.
Miller has totally denied any involvement and retains his job at Arizona.
That, by the way, is one of the stinkiest things about the way a lot of business is done in college basketball. The AAU coaches, the “advisors” and hustlers get paid for influencing recruits, but often the players don’t see that money or even know about the deal. They just get exploited.
For many years I heard the tale of a high-profile recruit from Portland landing at an out-of-state university and that the college did not recruit him through his high-school coach. It was done with the AAU coach, who pushed the player to that university and then showed up the next several summers as a "guest instructor" at the college's basketball camp -- at an exorbitant amount of money.
The documentary is an entertaining watch, but leaves behind those big questions. Why didn’t coaches get dragged into court to explain their “playbook?” And with all the serious crime going on in the world, why did this waste of taxpayers’ money happen in the first place?