Apr
07

Dan Wetzel Is Attacking Corruption In College Sports

Dan Wetzel, currently of Yahoo! Sports, is one of my favorite journalists.  In my opinion, some of his best pieces include,

And his recent provocative pieces…

I guarantee that his most recent piece on UConn will catapult Wetzel’s popularity tremendously.  I hope that he gets to the bottom of all the recruiting violations and cleans up the business of sports a little bit.

Anyway, the site RealClearSports just interviewed Wetzel.  Here are the parts of the interview that I thought was worth extrapolating:

RCS: Last week, you (and Adrian Wojnarowski) broke the story uncovering UConn’s recruitment violations. What will be the follow-up and fallout from this story?

Wetzel: Well we’re doing a series of stories of the changing roles of agents in college basketball. There’s endless subject matter on that. I don’t know if that would necessarily involve UConn or not. UConn is just one school, the problem is everywhere. But if you don’t provide specific examples then these projects have no impact.

There’s an NCAA investigation already underway concerning multiple, major violations. The story is on the record. This wasn’t about anonymous sources. There’s no doubt that there was a relationship between Josh Nochimson and Nate Miles that was against NCAA rules. There’s no doubt that UConn assistant Tom Moore pointed Miles out to Nochimson and knew that the relationship was going on. And there’s no doubt that UConn exchanged 1,500 plus phone and text messages with Josh Nochimson while it was going on.

That’s why this is a different kind of story. I know people’s eyes glaze over with agents and phone calls and all of that. But this is a program initiating, knowing about and possibly directing a relationship between an alum, who also happens to be an agent, and a top prospect. I’ve heard people compare it to the Indiana case, because there were also some excessive phone calls. Excessive phone calls are the least severe of the charges. This is far more significant than Indiana. It’s not even close.

I’m sure UConn will figure out some kind of a defense, but the NCAA is taking it seriously. What comes of it is up to them. It’s their rules and their system.

RCS: What about the longer term fallout? How will the culture of NCAA regulation and college recruiting change from even just a single story?

Wetzel: Personally I don’t think it’s going to change very much because there’s so much money at stake. But hopefully with the series of stories, it makes people aware of how things have changed.

I think the general consensus out there, even inside college athletics, is the problem with agents is still some kind of shady runner waiting out the parking lot trying to meet a kid. What we’re trying to show with this story, and a previous story on an agency in New York, Ceruzzi Sports, is just how organized it is, how high tech it is, how much money is at stake.

The last story was about how agents donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the non-profit organizations that fund AAU coaches in an effort to get access to players. This one is how college coaches can use agents to recruit high school players.

We’re not doing the same old, blame the “street agent” stories. He isn’t the problem. The problem is at the top with a lot of wealthy, powerful people orchestrating this thing. This isn’t about who is selling a player, it’s who is buying the player.

If college basketball wants to change, they have to at least be embarrassed that they’re own coaches are the problem. Whether or not they change, that’s their issue, not mine. They do need to know that using the same blame game model from 25 years ago isn’t going to do anything. It’s way bigger. It’s way more inside, way more brazen and it’s way more sophisticated than most people realize.

RCS: One of the interesting things about the UConn story is that you’ve written extensively on the subject, including in your book Sole Influence, and that your perspective on cheating in college basketball is particularly nuanced. You told The Big Lead a few years ago, it’s not “made up of black hats and white hats. They are all grey hats. They about all cheat.”

If all programs cheat, with regards to cheating in recruitment, what balance – what shade of gray – should college basketball enforce?

Wetzel: Well there are a couple of things on that. College basketball makes these rules. If they want to change their rules, go ahead. I don’t necessarily agree with their rules. But this is what they have as their standard. This is what they sell to the American public. They claim that their tournament is pure. They get a great deal of the media to believe in their white-hat, black-hat scenario, which is absurd. “This guy’s shady, this guy’s a saint” – it doesn’t work that way. But that’s how it’s consumed.

The NCAA enjoys tax-exempt status and other benefits from the government based on this idea that they’re operating an amateur athletic organization and that this stuff doesn’t happen. That’s a promise they made to Teddy Roosevelt. If you take the UConn case, you say, “Well, if the UConn coaching staff points out an alum and agent to a top recruit, and that alum, with their knowledge, takes care of the kid and gets him surgery, lodging, transportation and all these things, and then the kid goes to UConn, how amateur is that?” And it isn’t just UConn.

What the NCAA sells to the people, what CBS sells to the people, and what they sell to the government so they don’t have to pay billions in taxes, is a farce. That’s probably more my problem with them. If they want change the rule, if they want to pay taxes, I don’t care. That’s their rules. But if they’re going to have rules, I think someone should call them out.

RCS: Rick Maese of the Baltimore Sun recently wrote a column about the lack of NCAA regulation, in which he quoted you, arguing, “[The NCAA is] almost completely reliant on self-reporting or media accounts. Schools rarely self-report a major violation. There’s been just one major infractions case involving a major basketball program in the last 2 1/2 years (Indiana, which self-reported). As media has cut back/changed, the number of investigations has also dropped.”

Realistically, with schools rarely self-reporting and investigative reporting fading away, is cheating in college basketball going to get worse?

Wetzel: Yeah, I’ve written a column calling this “the Golden Age Cheating” in college football and basketball. No one gets punished anymore. I think the NCAA is trying harder right now then they did a few years ago. I do think there are people at the NCAA, certainly on the enforcement staff that want to control this. But when you have 20 investigators on the entire thing, you’re just completely overmatched. I’m not so convinced that the infractions committee, which doles out the punishments, is as committed to the rules. Their penalties have been notoriously weak of late. As a result the level of corruption in college sports right now is just off the charts. If you knew all the stories, you’d watch these games a lot differently.