The last player to get drafted into the NBA straight out of High School was Amir Johnson. Johnson, a second-round pick, was part of a 2005 draft class that featured the likes of other HS prospects, Lou Williams, Andrew Bynum and Gerald Green. After 2005 the NBA changed the rule that a player must be one year removed from HS to enter the draft, which only enhanced the talent that would be heading to the college game and benefiting the mighty NCAA. With the latest findings by the FBI involving college coaches and most notably (so far) Sean Miller of Arizona and Rick Pitino at Louisville, the question has to be asked; What can be done to prevent bribery and cheating in major college sports, and even further, would the game be cleaner if players were allowed to go from HS straight to the NBA yet again?
Now, both questions are extremely loaded and there is no right answer. Honestly, believing there is a formula that we can come up with that will minimize the cheating that goes on in college sports is as naïve as believing there is a formula we can come up with to prevent insider trading or adultery. At the end of the day, it comes down to morals, ethics and the way people, coaches, athletic departments and fans define success and priorities. I doubt there are any Athletic Director’s (AD) out there that tell their coaches that they have to win at all costs. Do they tell them they have to win? Absolutely. The way that coach tries to attain that success is when it starts to get a little dicey. Whose fault is it when coaches start cheating then? They want to win and keep their jobs and have success. College sports have become more and more pressure filled because of the impact a team’s success or lack thereof has on the rest of their respective school. If a coach at a high major program is not getting the job done then they will be fired. That pressure comes directly from the fans, and the Athletic Department almost 100% of the time.
So, is it on the AD? Most times you see a situation where there is cheating going on and a coach is involved you almost always see the AD resign as well. I honestly believe transparency between an AD, their expectations of a coach and their program will be the absolute most important aspect moving forward. But then, if a coach is struggling to win games and recruit, it may not matter what their AD tells them about running a clean program, it will come down to what a coach is willing to do to keep their job.
Sean Miller was allegedly wire tapped and found to have been well aware, in fact orchestrating the $100,000 bribe to ensure that Arizona Freshman, Deandre Ayton, would sign with the Wildcats. When Ayton signed it was a pretty large shock to everyone because most had him all but signed to play for Bill Self and Kansas. Was Sean Millers job in jeopardy at Arizona? Absolutely not. If he did not land Ayton, they would have gotten a commitment from a different four-star recruit that would have come in and been fine. Now, Miller will have a tough time finding a job to coach a HS team let alone at the College level again.
Others will say, “Well the problem is players should be able to go straight to the NBA.” Then these top guys won’t be taking illegal bribes to go to a school for just one year. Although I understand this point, I honestly don’t think it would matter. If the top five guys go to the NBA and forego playing in college, then those same coaches that are “dirty” would simply set their sights on the next best kids available.
The problem has been and will continue to be the culture of winning at all costs. Until that changes, the same guys will continue to walk the line and break the rules to get ahead. The FBI’s involvement makes this situation a whole lot more serious which is something that will make some coaches and agents re think their willingness to cheat but at the end of the day it’s about culture of a program and how certain coaches will put success above honesty and practicing what they preach. Don’t tell your players not to take shortcuts and then go bribe a kid to play for you on the recruiting trail. Don’t tell your kids to study and not cheat in classes while you cheat to get ahead. Don’t tell your kids that you care about them when you’re getting a chunk of change for selling them to an agent giving you the best deal. Coaches are supposed to mentor and lead and teach their players how to succeed and succeed the right way. If you are running an Athletic Department and you hire coaches that are doing anything but the aforementioned things then the blame is also on you. Practice what you preach.