Normally, nobody outside of Lexington, Lawrence or Durham wants to talk about college basketball in late September. It takes a massive news event to wrest headlines away from college football, but boy howdy, does this qualify.
The FBI’s deep investigation into corruption in college basketball has already started to shake up coaching staffs across the country, from Arizona to Alabama. And of course, Louisville is now out a Hall of Fame coach. If you’re looking for a quick rundown on everything that has happened in the scandal so far, this is a good place to look.
The fallout could become even more extensive. But let’s to take a look at how this may directly touch Ohio State.
Has Ohio State basketball been mentioned in any FBI reports so far?
No, and to be honest, they’re not very likely to. Thad Matta had a pretty sterling reputation in coaching circles for doing everything above board in recruiting, and if we’re being honest, it’s probably a bit part of why Ohio State lost a few big recruiting battles over the last few seasons. College basketball is a weird sport, and I don’t want to say it’s impossible that an assistant did something without Matta knowing, but that would be a pretty big surprise. In this particular scandal, Ohio State hoops is probably fine.
Of note, one program that has been heavily mentioned is Arizona, coached by Sean Miller, a one-time target to replace Thad Matta at Ohio State. We’ll have to see how that shakes out, but the short term news isn’t good for the Wildcat program.
How might this scandal impact Ohio State recruiting?
The Buckeyes already have four 2018 commitments (you can see what they bring to the table right here), and are likely to only take one more in this class. The biggest need appears to be a pure point guard. Their biggest target is Elijah Weaver, whose Crystal Ball predictions of late have been favoring USC, one of the programs mentioned in the FBI reports. Does that change anything? Who knows?
We’ve already seen a rush of decommitments from programs like Auburn, Miami and Louisville, and as more programs and assistants are tied up in the scandal, more players could bounce. Perhaps the most prominent player with an Ohio State offer is former Louisville commit, and top 50 recruit, PG Courtney Ramey. The most recent CB picks have been for Missouri, but perhaps Ohio State attempts to get back into his recruitment if this open up a bit.
The Buckeyes are also pursing Eric Ayala, Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke as potential 2018 point guards. Ohio State isn’t favored in any of those races, but it’s worth monitoring to see if other major programs are tied up in this scandal, which could shake many races up. If the FBI is poking into the Nike EYBL program, there’s a good chance a lot of other college programs are going to be added to this investigation as well.
It’s also worth noting that these decommitments could potentially steer talented players who might otherwise go to Louisville, Arizona or other national programs into the Big Ten. Indiana, for example, could be a beneficiary, which would make things tougher for Ohio State moving forward.
This investigation is focused on college basketball right now. Is there a chance it could spread to college football as well?
There’s a chance, but I don’t think that’s super likely, as the “bagman” operation in those two sports is run pretty differently.
My colleague Jason Kirk summed this up well, I think. Tl;dr, college basketball is a business, and college football is more like a cult. Enormous shoe companies and agencies are prepared to invest big sums of money (like, six figures worth) to funnel to high schoolers to get wearing their shoes, and thinking about their representation, very early. Think of it as a giant futures market, only instead of above the board investing, it’s a giant scheme of bribes.
There’s shoe money and agent money in college football recruiting too, but because of the longer evaluation period in college, the difference in shoe contracts between the sport and other factors, the shoe companies aren’t nearly as big of players in HS recruitment (although that could change). The bagmen are more like guys at the local car dealership, or alumni boosters, just trying to grow the football program.
Those guys make less attractive scalps for an FBI agent than say, a director at Adidas. The NCAA could, and occasionally does, go after the football bagmen. But it would surprise me, at this point, if this evolved into a massive football operation, even if there’s more “money” in college football.
Does this surprise you?
I’m not a college basketball history expert. I did write a book about college football history though, and I can tell you that funneling money to recruits has been going on for literally over a hundred years, when Princeton was scheming on how to out-recruit Yale. Scandal has been no stranger to college basketball either, from point shaving, to organized crime ties, to yes, recruiting violations. The idea that this was continuing, even on a relatively massive scale, is not a shock.
I’m not sure if this is something that could be easily fixed, even with just “paying the players”. One suggestion, from Andy Staples at SI, is to let college athletes have agents. That could probably go a ways towards cleaning up the shady middlemen. There will probably be other ideas that will be published soon, some more feasible than others. But under existing NCAA legislation and framework, even massive FBI indictments may not be enough to clean things up.
Corrections: A previous edition of this story incorrectly stated the commitment date of Weaver. We regret the error.