The eventual champion of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament may not get a chance to hang a championship banner from its rafters if the Federal Bureau of Investigation wants it that way.
Given what we know about the investigation uncovering recruitment violations committed by seemingly every competitive college basketball program, 2018 might be a repeat of 2013. If you remember, Louisville emerged from March Madness as champion that year only to have that championship vacated for paying escorts to “recruit” players. While those 40 alleged acts warrant the punishment received, not all recruiting violations should be treated equally. Some shouldn’t be violations at all.
For instance, it is alleged that the FBI has a recording of Arizona head coach Sean Miller speaking of a $100,000 payment to secure freshman center DeAndre Ayton, who could be the top pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Ayton makes Arizona a legitimate title contender, and one of those teams who could win the national championship only to have it taken away. This, too, would warrant a punishment on par with Louisville’s.
Handing out bags full of money is obviously a violation of the NCAA’s “amateurism” policy -- a policy alleged to exist to preserve the “integrity” of collegiate athletics while coaches and athletic directors “earn” million-dollar salaries on the backs of slave labor. You used to have to go pro to earn pro money. Now coaches can avoid the humiliation of failing at the highest level and still live like they made the big time.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski is one of those coaches, and many wonder how he manages to recruit the best high school players without violating NCAA rules. Being the winningest coach in the history of NCAA Division I basketball and having a chance to win a national championship every year can’t be only reasons why Duke has secured the top three high school recruits next year. He must be breaking the rules, right? Well, Krzyzewski wasn’t implicated in the FBI investigation, but one of his players was.
Duke University freshman forward Wendell Carter, Jr. is accused of violating the NCAA’s amateurism policy because his mother, Kylia Carter, had dinner with ASM sports agent Christian Dawkins and may or may not have paid for it. The meal cost $106.36, and Wendell Carter, Jr., who was a junior in high school at the time, wasn’t even there. This is where the NCAA can start revising its amateurism policy.
Buying someone food should never affect the eligibility of a student-athlete to compete in collegiate athletics, whether that food is consumed by the student-athlete or a member of that student-athlete’s family. Kylia Carter took time out of her day to accommodate Dawkins and discuss the future of her son. She shouldn’t have to pay for a meal -- a meal she might not be able to afford -- just to talk to someone about her son’s future, whether it be with a college coach or a sports agent. Wendell shouldn’t have to pay for his meals, either, regardless of who’s buying. If an agent wants to wine and dine him, Wendell shouldn’t have to say, “I can’t accept because I’m an amateur.”
Not a single collegiate athlete or high school recruit should have to pay a dime for food. This is the least the NCAA can do with its billion-dollar revenues: provide a per diem for meals to all NCAA student-athletes and stop considering meals as “benefits.”
Meals are calories; they are fuel. The athlete does not benefit from eating a meal. They might enjoy it, but there isn’t a meal in the world or a chef in the world capable of persuasion. No decisions are being made like Cypher’s decision to mutiny in The Matrix because of the juiciness of a steak. Let the student-athletes eat. Hell, for some of them, that dinner with an agent might be the last fancy meal they ever eat. They could tear their ACL the next day and never hear from another agent or college coach again.
Even when those recruits get to college they incur costs for calories. If you’re unaware of how meals work in college, here’s a crash course. Most colleges and universities include meal plans with room and board. That was the case when I attended the University of Washington as a freshman. Since I was living in the dorms, which all freshmen are required to do unless they’re living with family, I was required to pay for a meal plan. I didn’t want a meal plan. I wanted to buy groceries and cook my meals in the dormitory kitchenette, but there was no way around it. I had to buy a meal plan.
So I bought the cheapest meal plan available, and while it allowed me to buy groceries from the campus market, those groceries were much more expensive than they were at nearby grocery stores. The only way I could use my meal plan money, though, was using my student ID card, which, of course, was not accepted anywhere but on campus. It’s a convenient monopoly on food for the university, which probably helps offset the losses incurred when Amazon revealed to students the true price of their textbooks when purchased anywhere but a college bookstore.
The worst part about the meal plan is if you don’t use it you lose it. At the end of each quarter, I ended up drinking a gallon of milk every few days just to meet the minimum spending requirement of my plan so I could get the rest of my money refunded. You read that right: there’s a minimum amount you must spend in order to get your own money back from the college.
I know what you’re thinking. “Aren’t these student-athletes on scholarship?” Well, some of them are, but most aren’t. Most have scholarships covering tuition only. Some have no scholarship at all. But even those with “full-rides” aren’t getting full-rides. There aren’t meal plans for collegiate football players who need to consume more than 4,000 calories per day. And who do you think pays for something a student-athlete needs that isn’t included with their meal plan? A coach or university administrator can’t or they could be found in violation the NCAA’s amateurism policy.
Consider this: a six-foot, 10-inch, 200-pound college freshman is still growing into his body. His coaches have asked him to bulk up, which means consuming more protein. I don’t know if you’ve been to college lately, but the last I was there (2013), the cafeteria didn’t have many protein-packed options. You could usually find chicken in some way, shape or form, and hamburger, but there’s only so much meat you can eat. Fish can be found, but a student-athlete can’t be expected to pound tuna sandwiches, peanuts and jerky after a workout. Pounding a protein shake, though, provides the muscles with what they need immediately, but you won’t find protein powder for sale on too many campuses. That’s a cost incurred by the athlete to fuel the vehicle that creates the revenue they’ll never see.
Slave owners fed their slaves because their revenue depended on it, but like the NCAA, fed them just enough to do the work and nothing more. The NCAA is on the verge of suffering a similar fate as those slave owners. The chatter slaves must have heard about the Union paying runaway slaves to serve as soldiers in the Civil War after Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is an uncomfortable simile to the NCAA’s amateurism problem. The appeal of playing for money internationally is growing and costing slave owners recruits, and talk of the G-League serving as a development league for high school recruits unwilling to attend college must feel like a Gettysburg Address waiting to happen to the NCAA.
If the NCAA doesn’t do something to appeal to new recruits, they stand to lose everything, because the NCAA isn’t a billion-dollar industry without March Madness, and March Madness isn’t March Madness without the best “amateurs” in the world.
With an increasing number of mass shootings in recent months, we are urged by law enforcement officials to keep an eye out. Report anything suspicious. “If you see something, say something” we are regularly told. The problem is, that in too many instances, the alarms raised by concerned citizens are falling on deaf ears.
The most recent blatant example of a failure to respond came last week as 17 teachers and students were gunned down in Parkland, Florida. The FBI received several credible tips that a graduate of Parkland High school, Nikolas Cruz, was posting disturbing social media postings that he wanted to become a “professional school shooter” and had a desire to kill people. The FBI admitted it had failed to investigate even though there are only 12 “Nikolas Cruz” in the country. So much for “see something, say something.”
In the same case, the local sheriff admitted to receiving over 20 calls about the dangers of the shooter. No action was taken. The Parkland public defender, whose office is representing Nikolas Cruz, said: “This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter. If this isn’t a person who should have gotten someone’s attention, I don’t know who is. This was a multi-system failure.”
In the Nassar molestation case of teenage gymnasts, the doctor molested more than 40 young girls after the FBI had been notified. One of the gymnasts who complained to the FBI told The New York Times: “I never got a phone call from the police or the FBI during that time. Not one person. Not one. Not one. Not one.” She saw something and said something, but got no response.
How about Devin Kelley, the mass murderer at the small church in Texas. While in the Air Force, he talked openly about killing his superiors, illegally snuck a gun on his military base, was charged with assault and escaping from a psychiatric hospital, attacked his wife with a gun, hitting and choking her, fractured the skull of his baby stepson, and became a convicted felon. Yet after all this, he still was allowed to buy a number of guns. Many saw something and said something, but there was no response.
We know about mass shootings here in Louisiana, A killer named John Houser, who had a long history of violence and mental illness traveled to Louisiana from Georgia. Houser had been ordered to a psychiatric hospital by a Georgia judge in 2008, which should have prevented him from even buying a gun. But then he went to an Alabama pawnshop and bought a 40-caliber, semiautomatic handgun. Georgia and Alabama are both saying the other state should have done more to stop Houser from purchasing the gun considering his checkered mental condition. So what good was it to “see something, say something?”
As I wrote in a column last year, some 48,000 convicted felons and fugitives lied about their criminal history, a federal offense, so as to pass the background checks and purchase guns illegally. How many of these 48,000 were prosecuted for making false statements? A total of 44. The Justice Department’s response was that it was “prioritizing prosecutions to focus on more serious crimes.” More serious crimes? What could be more serious than getting thousands of potential killers off the streets who lie to get a weapon?
It’s all well and good to have these national campaigns that tell the public to keep their eyes open and report suspicious activity. Some will argue that this leads to a big brother mentality, but it’s just the price we have to pay in the this violent day and age.
But if you “see something and say something,” you expect that federal and state law enforcement agencies will give such information a serious look. Too often, such important information gets ignored or falls through the cracks. Americans deserve a lot better.
Peace and Justice
It’s been a bad last few weeks for the nation’s top law enforcement agency. First, an innocent hostage was shot and killed in a botched raid in Houston by an FBI shooter. Then the television movie series “Waco” debuted and revisited the FBI killings of innocent victims in both Ruby Ridge and Waco. And currently, the Bureau faces charges by members of Congress of malfeasance and even interfering in the most recent presidential election.
The FBI has a credibility problem. And for good reason. The House Intelligence Committee is investigating the mishandling of federal wiretap requests involving both the Clinton campaign and the Trump campaign. There is also the disappearance of thousands of FBI emails and efforts by certain agents to undermine both candidates.
Take a look at just some of the newspaper headlines across America.
“Evidence Suggests a Massive Scandal is Brewing at the FBI”-New York Post
“Wanted: An Honest FBI” -Wall Street Journal
“The Massive Case of Collective Amnesia at the FBI”-National Public Radio
“Scandal Ridden FBI-Must Be Abolished”-Boston Globe
The House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a staff memo that Speaker Paul Ryan says will show that “there may have been malfeasance at the FBI.” In response, the Bureau is pleading with Congress and the President not to release the document. But with all the charges and counter charges taking place, a little transparency would seem to be in order.
Maybe we can learn a little bit from Hollywood. In the movie “Final Impact,” the President asks a reporter to hold off on a major story by saying: And I can’t appeal to your sense of what’s in the nation’s best interest?” To which she responds: “I always thought the truth was in the nation’s best interest.” The point made is to let it all out.
And how about the confrontation between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”?
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I WANT THE TRUTH!
Col. Jessup: YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
Yes we can Col. Jessup. As the Wall Street Journal editorialized this week: “The House memo is not about ‘attacking the FBI or our law enforcement professionals.’ This is about restoring confidence in a law-enforcement agency that played an unprecedented role in the US presidential election regarding both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.”
A number of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee seem to be outraged over any allegations that the FBI has a political agenda and that it can be vindictive. But as an investigative report by National Public Radio concluded last week: “As a matter of reality, the FBI has been political from its outset. The people in charge and the people in charge of the administrations under which it has served have been as political and as partisan as it is possible to be.”
History shows that from the creation of the FBI under President Teddy Roosevelt, the FBI has been used, misused, and by their own actions, insubordinate in many administrations. How long could we talk about the shenanigans of J. Edgar Hoover, Watergate, Deep Throat, Sen. Joe McCarthy, investigations of Martin Luther King, and LBJ having the FBI harass Vietnam protesters?
At the present time, there are three major congressional investigations into possible criminal activity within the FBI. Special prosecutors seem to be appointed in Washington at the drop of a hat. With the President himself under investigation by a special prosecutor, it would seem appropriate to have a similar special prosecutor appointed to fully investigate the numerous allegations of impropriety by the FBI.
Is this powerful bureaucracy worthy of America’s trust? Yes Col. Jessup, we can handle the truth. Just let the chips fall where they may.
Peace and Justice