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College basketball is on fire right now, and nobody’s paying much attention.
This apparently includes Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The testimony given so far has implicated fraud involving players at several high-profile programs like Kansas, Arizona, Louisville and N.C. State to name a few. But big-name head coaches have not been implicated, and Duke has largely been left out of the fray.
Coach K: Revelations from corruption trial ‘minute’
So why would Krzyzewski be concerned?
“We haven’t followed it that much, to be quite frank,” Krzyzewski said at a Monday news conference. “I think it’s minute. It’s a blip. It’s what’s happening — I mean it’s not.”
That is a remarkable bit of downplaying, referring to a scandal exposing the alleged underground network of payments that makes college basketball tick as a “blip.”
Coach K echoes Roy Williams
Krzyzewski tossed the ball to his rival down the road, North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, who expressed his own shock at the allegations being levied during the fraud trial in a news conference last week.
“I’m just dumbfounded,” Williams told reported on Tuesday. … “In 30 years as a head coach, I have never had anyone ask me for money. I have never asked any shoe company to recruit for me.”
Krzyzewski expressed a similar sentiment.
“When I heard what (Williams) said, I understand that. I’m not exposed to — we haven’t lost guys because of someone cheating. I’m not aware of that.”
Are college coaches insulated?
That last bit from Krzyzewski about not being “exposed to,” before he cut himself off, might be the rub as far as coaches are concerned.
It’s very difficult for a reasonable mind to hear what’s being levied in these trial hearings and be convinced that college basketball is not corrupt at its core. For many fans, it just reinforces what was suspected all along and put succinctly years ago by late, candid UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian.
“Nine out of 10 schools are cheating,” Tarkanian said. “The other one is in last place.”
But it’s not unreasonable to believe that coaches at the highest levels have insulated themselves from the grimier aspects of the sport. Plausible deniability is a powerful tool.
Simple solution if NCAA would do what’s right
Of course student-athletes getting paid for the value they provide a billion-dollar industry is inherently not corrupt. In fact, it it was done above board, it would epitomize the American way, capitalism at its finest.
But it’s not above board because the NCAA prefers to keep its talent unpaid while hoarding the cash for itself and its coaches. And to build elaborate facilities for its unpaid labor to practice and play in.
So we’re stuck with this. The FBI coming down on shoe companies for allegedly paying athletes largely below their actual market value.
College hoops will be fine
In the meantime, college basketball will go on. There’s just not enough bandwidth for the American public to care.
In a world where the norm is for people to wake up to news that is bizarre, terrifying and almost always more consequential on a daily basis, this kind of scandal has plenty of room to coast under the radar.
Come March, the public will tune back in with little concern for what happened in a federal court room in October.
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