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Making sense of a crazy weekend in college basketball

The NCAA now has some serious work ahead, but what options do they have in front of them? Oh, and Xavier leads the Big East.

Creighton v Xavier
The NCAA may demand you erase this memory
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The joy that national talk radio is finally paying attention to college basketball is rather quickly tarnished by the fact that the word “scandal” is always in the headline. Thanks to Sean Miller doing everything but actually buying a player a Lexus, Seton Hall likely paying Isaiah Whitehead through an assistant coach, and Carlos Delfino getting a $71 lunch, ball was the main topic all weekend long. Mark Emmert emerged from his cloud of cluelessness, albeit briefly, to announce that his multi-billion dollar industry would not stand for anyone profiting off their own work. Obviously, the NCAA will have to address this, but what will they do?

Wait for the other shoe to drop

As bad as this original Christian Dawkins and Adam Miller leak looks, it’s been described as the “tip of the iceberg” by many people familiar with it. The Sean Miller situation was gleaned from up to 3,000 hours of wiretaps on the phones of coaches and agents involved in college basketball. That is an enormous amount of information, and once the FBI pores through it, more people are going to be implicated. The NCAA could well say that they are going to wait and see what happens before they send down punishments. God knows they hate to rush to conclusions and get things wrong. That never happens.

Issue blanket amnesty

This would be a radical step, but the NCAA could just announce that the players that took money from an agent for the purposes of after collegiate representation aren’t going to be punished. After all, it’s part of an open market that people can be recruited for what their services bring to a company. Did ASM give Markelle Fultz $10,000 so he would consider signing with them when he went pro? No harm done to the college game, Fultz makes money off of what he does, and there isn’t a recruiting violation. For situations like that, just announce that NCAA won’t be punishing players.

Start handling these situations fairly

Whether that means a stipend, allowing players to make money off their name and likeness (which might bring back the NCAA basketball video game), or allowing contact with agents prior to going pro, it’s logical that the employees of a business that makes over $900 million on the tournament alone each year be allowed to see some fruits for their labor. That coaches make millions per year, Emmert and his flunkies rake in cash hand over fist, and the schools continue to add multi-million dollar facility after multi-million dollar facility while the players can’t even work a summer job so they can afford snacks is absolutely ludicrous. Holding to the idea that a scholarship is enough is an anachronism that can’t be done away with quickly enough.

Drop the hammer

Sadly, this is the most likely one. The NCAA cannot see their thin veneer of amateurism challenged by “student-athletes” without responding. That could mean the utterly impotent gesture of vacated games, perhaps the single stupidest recurring theme in sports today, or something with teeth like coaching suspensions, postseason bans, or scholarship reductions. Either way, you can expect that the NCAA will react violently to this scandal. Allowing it to without harsh punishment would send the message that they care about the players and students it is possible to funnel money to kids without serious retribution. For all the vitriol the bumbling way the NCAA handles most things deserves, they can’t allow people to simply start paying players to attend one school over another. Even if some payment system is eventually allowed, the playing field has to remain level.

Go case by case

Edmond Sumner’s dad got $7,500 over lunch in Detroit? No harm, no foul. Isaiah Whitehead and an assistant coach that recruited him both go paid? Sanctions for Seton Hall. Sean Miller literally paid a kid $100,000 to come to Arizona? Death sentence (for the program, not a literal death sentence). The NCAA has the time and money to do this right. It would be a welcome relief if they did.