Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (outside legal counsel sold separately in too many college towns to count right now):
A SPORT ON THE BRINK
Is it possible that a sketchy street hustler turned crooked agent is in position to do what all the pay-the-player activists over the years have not yet gotten done? Is it possible that Christian Dawkins (1) and his expense reports are going to change college basketball as we know it?
The sport has been periodically immersed in scandal for more than 60 years without fundamentally altering the modus operandi. This feels different. With the federal government doing what NCAA enforcement cannot, the curtain was pulled back last week on an underground enterprise that is staggering in scope. It’s time to think about fundamental change, not more half measures and handwringing.
“There is no question that the scope of the most recent allegations of wrongdoing have brought us to a tipping point,” said Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (2). “All of us share responsibility for finding solutions to problems many have known about but have been unwilling or unable to address.”
The question is what and how, and who will drive that change. And the answer could be oddly intriguing. Is the sport waiting for former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (3) to ride in on a white horse and deliver a new model? She’s hardly the type of basketball insider some voices in the game have been calling for to lead the sport out of the swamp, but that may well be for the best — the people closest to the game are among those most responsible for the current mess.
NCAA president Mark Emmert (4) tabbed Rice to head a commission to study the sport and suggest reforms shortly after this scandal first blew up last fall. He sounds increasingly ready to listen to her findings, and to explore a radically altered collegiate model.
Among the ideas Emmert seemed willing to explore was allowing agent representation of basketball players while in college — something already in place in baseball and hockey.
“It makes perfect sense to me that [agent rules] ought to be very different than it is right now,” Emmert told CBS on Saturday.
As has often been the case this century, Mike Slive (5) was ahead of the game. The former Southeastern Conference commissioner was in favor of deconstructing the NCAA agent rules as far back as 2010. While Slive’s thoughts generated a lot of discourse, they didn’t generate much change.
“What we had hoped for was for a total rethink of the rules and regulations as they relate to agents,” Slive said in 2013. “A task force was formed and began to do some work and then for reasons I’m not clear on, the conversations ended.”
Consider the conversations restarted.
The problem with 18-year-olds having agents, of course, is that they will quickly become 15-year-olds with agents and it will be state high school associations trying to deal with regulating that circus. And as overmatched as the NCAA sometimes appears to be, it is a paragon of efficiency and clear thinking compared to some state high school associations.
(On the other hand: In recent years agents already have been getting their hands on players well before college. Among those allegedly receiving tens of thousands of dollars, according to the documents viewed by Yahoo Sports, were Dennis Smith (6) and Bam Adebayo (7) in 2015, when they were still in high school. So maybe the trickle-down agent infiltration toward middle school has long since come to pass.)
Another area to evaluate: One and done. Don’t make somebody like Brian Bowen (8) go to college if he (or his family) clearly has no interest in anything beyond earning money as a basketball player. Allow players to go pro when they want without the educational charade. If even Duke (9), a national Top 20 university, is willing to compromise itself to play this game, then change the game.
A one-and-done change will require movement from the NBA, which sets the rules of engagement there. Commissioner Adam Silver sounds amenable to an alteration, and he will have plenty of encouragement from the college level.
“The NBA must change its eligibility rules to be similar to those currently in place by Major League Baseball,” Scott said. “This will solve many of the problems we face today by allowing young players and their families looking to get to the NBA as soon as possible to do so.”
The third area that could be up for substantive change: Endorsement opportunities and/or name/image/likeness revenue. A cut of jersey sales, being able to profit from autograph appearances — this would give the stars of the sport a cut of the pie, and temper some of the outrage on that front.
Those changes would certainly give the NCAA less to police. And less policing might be a good thing.
“Part of the NCAA enforcement response, I believe, should come from rethinking what there is for the NCAA to enforce,” said Nebraska law professor and Committee on Infractions member Josephine Potuto (10). “One partial solution is to pare down the kinds of things that are NCAA violations.”
THE HIRING/FIRING CYCLE — HOLD EVERYTHING
As was touched upon shortly after the federal investigation of college hoops became public, the job qualifications for coaches could be in line to change dramatically. That possibility took a step toward reality last week, with revelations that could alter who gets fired and who gets hired in college basketball. Jobs that once were secure could be in jeopardy. Jobs that once were on the line could now be considered safe. Candidates for upgrades could now be too hot to touch. Other candidates may look better than ever.
Looking at a few places that may be rethinking things, based on what was revealed in the ASM Sports documents:
Louisville (11). Interim coach David Padgett (12) was considered an extreme long shot to keep the job on a full-time basis, with highly successful coaches like Xavier’s Chris Mack (13) and Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall (14) viewed as potential candidates to coach the Cardinals.
But ASM documents indicated potentially thousands of dollars in payments to Xavier guard Edmond Sumner and his father, Ernest, while he was still in school. And there was at least four figures in alleged payments to Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet. Those might not be disqualifying developments for their coaches as theoretical Louisville candidates, but it would add a layer of doubt and vetting to the process.
A school as scarred by scandal as Louisville has to make sure the next hire is pristine, which could change the candidate pool.
And it could increase Padgett’s chances of retaining the job, in lieu of hoping the next guy doesn’t come with yet-to-be-revealed baggage. Louisville (19-10) took a step toward making the NCAA tournament Saturday with a road win over Virginia Tech, but may still need to win one of two games this week (home against No. 1 Virginia on Thursday, at surging North Carolina State on Saturday). Padgett has handled a thankless task with class and poise, and it would not at all be a surprise to see the fan base coalesce around him with a strong finish.
The caveat: He was an assistant on the previous scandal-tainted staff, and even retaining him as the interim coach was a controversial move that hardly provided a clean break from the Rick Pitino Era. Padgett was an emergency replacement in the fall; that justification wouldn’t hold water in the spring.
A couple other hot-seat coaches who might look better now, given their previous reputations and absence from any connection to the ASM documents:
Mark Fox (15), Georgia. The Bulldogs are 16-12, 7-9 in the SEC and a virtual lock to miss the NCAA tournament for the seventh time in nine seasons under Fox. But Fox has a clean rep, three wins in his last four games and perhaps reason for a flicker of renewed hope. Especially if Georgia can beat Texas A&M and Tennessee (again) this week, then make a push in the SEC tournament toward an NCAA bid. The biggest question: Can AD Greg McGarity hire someone better who would arrive without baggage?
Pat Chambers (16), Penn State. The general belief was that, in his seventh season, Chambers might need his first NCAA berth to get an eighth. At 19-12, 9-9 in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are at least hanging around bubble territory. An injury to big man Mike Watkins might torpedo their chances in the Big Ten tournament, but retaining Chambers might be a more palatable option than wading into potentially murky hiring waters.
CIRCLE OF TRUST
Each week, The Minutes has been identifying the nation’s most reliable national title contenders. And each week, there has been just one team in the circle. That team was Villanova (17).
And now ‘Nova has been evicted.
The Wildcats are just 3-3 over their last six games. They’re far more vulnerable defensively than the previous four Villanova teams, all of which earned No. 1 or No. 2 NCAA tourney seeds. This is a great offensive team, but on a night when the 3-pointers aren’t dropping, can it guard its way to a victory? The Minutes has doubts, and with Villanova out, no team is taking its place.
Trust nobody. Which seems like a thematically apt way to head into March.
GULAG OF DISTRUST
The Minutes’ ongoing vetting of potential high NCAA tourney seeds that could be early dismissals focuses this week on Texas Tech (18). Guard Keenan Evans has been hobbled by a toe injury the last three games, and what do you know — the Red Raiders have lost all three. Evans, the team’s heartbeat, has scored just 12 points in those three losses and made just three of 19 shots. If Evans isn’t back at full strength by mid-March, a Texas Tech team enjoying its best season in eons will be vulnerable.
A TALE OF TWO VANDERBILTS
Streaky Kentucky has put the wheels back on, winning three straight games in increasingly impressive fashion. What has keyed the turnaround after a dismal four-game losing streak?
Vanderbilt, times two. That’s Vanderbilt the player (19), and Vanderbilt the team (20).
Jarred Vanderbilt was Kentucky’s highest-rated recruit in the class of 2017, per Rivals.com, but he missed the first 17 games of the season with a foot injury. And for the first couple of weeks after he started playing, he did more to unsettle Kentucky’s chemistry than enhance it.
But now Vanderbilt is figuring it out, and quickly becoming a high-impact player. During this three-game winning streak, the super-athletic 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 11 points, 11 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. In his first nine games, he averaged 4.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.6 blocks.
Perhaps most of all, Vanderbilt has contributed an infectious effort level to a team that too often coasted or seemed too cool to try hard. With Vanderbilt throwing his body all over the court, the rest of the Wildcats have had little choice but to try and match his energy level.
“The dudes playing the most minutes are the toughest ones we have,” coach John Calipari said after Kentucky ripped Missouri on Saturday. “… Right before your eyes, we’re becoming a better basketball team.”
So how has the other Vanderbilt, an 11-18 dumpster fire, contributed to Kentucky’s revival? By blowing what should have been a lock victory in Rupp Arena on Jan. 30. Here’s how it happened:
After leading virtually all game, the Commodores were up three with 20 seconds left when senior guard Riley LaChance went to the foul line to shoot a one-and-one. LaChance is a career 84 percent foul shooter — but he missed the front end, making him 0-for-5 from the line this season against Kentucky. Instead of making two for a five-point lead, that miss and a Quade Green drive with nine seconds remaining made it a one-point game.
Then Kentucky fouled Vandy’s Jeff Roberson, an 85 percent foul shooter this season. Roberson made the first for a two-point lead, then missed the second. The long rebound caromed toward the sideline, and a Vandy player saved it inbounds to UK’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With two seconds left and Gilgeous-Alexander 80 feet from the basket, Vandy’s Joe Toye made a catastrophic play for the ball and committed a foul. Instead of a likely 40-foot heave, Gilgeous-Alexander got two free throws to force overtime and Kentucky won in the extra period.
What does that have to do with now? Consider: the four-game losing streak that caused panic throughout the commonwealth would have been five, and Kentucky would have, in mid-February, been 5-8 in SEC play and facing a very real NIT scenario. That might have been too much for the youngest team this side of high school to handle.
Two missed free throws by deadeye shooters and one forehead-slapping foul — that was the first time Vanderbilt saved the Wildcats. The second time was when Vanderbilt the player stepped up. Keep both in mind if Big Blue makes a big run.
More college basketball coverage on Yahoo Sports:
• Sources: LSU coach’s recruiting tactics scrutinized
• Federal documents show violations involving high-profile players, schools
• Emails in hoops corruption case detail inner workings of sport’s underbelly
• Arizona daring NCAA to do something about it by playing Deandre Ayton
• Lawyer for Arizona: Deandre Ayton allegations are ‘false and unfounded’
• Arizona loses despite Deandre Ayton’s dominant showing amid FBI scandal