By Kevin White
Corruption! Wiretaps! Illegally paying an adult man $100,000, which is still somehow less than he deserves! Another opportunity to try and slip calling the National Collegiate Athletic Association [redacted] past my editor!
On Feb. 23, Yahoo! Sports announced that their reporters had discovered spreadsheets detailing payments to top recruits, which were key to an FBI investigation. That same day, ESPN reported that the FBI had wiretapped a conversation between Sean Miller, head coach of the University of Arizona men’s basketball team, and Christian Dawkins, an associate of former NBA agent Andy Miller. According to ESPN, Miller and Dawkins discussed the payment of $100,000 to Deandre Ayton, a top recruit who is projected as a top-three pick in this year’s NBA draft.
There is a lot to unpack with the news, from the implications for the NCAA, the backlash faced by the organization, and even how such a scandal connects to athletics here at the University of Puget Sound. It is important to note a few things: the Yahoo! and ESPN reports both focus on Christian Dawkins. Neither report confirms the other, as Ayton is not listed in the spreadsheets as having received a loan. Both reports are uncorroborated. Due to this, neither the NCAA nor the schools in question have taken any action.
The story itself, while an incomplete picture, has still been quite the bombshell, and has shaken the NCAA to its core. This sort of issue has been a consistent presence in the NCAA for a while now, especially in basketball, where the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) has led to a culture of profiteering. Puget Sound Athletic Director Amy Hackett provided comments on the issue, saying, “The NCAA has long grappled with how to change the culture in primarily men’s basketball where the business of basketball takes place in large part in the AAU section involving shoe companies and agents/runners.” As for the impact here at Puget Sound, Hackett acknowledged that such violations have been increasingly more common, even in Division III.
There has also been the question of why the FBI is investigating such affairs. The most traditional of college sports fans may take issue with the possible misuse of taxpayer funds, but that’s not a federal crime. Professor Brad Reich, who teaches business law at Puget Sound, explained that the FBI investigation is far from complete, and may be more concerned with the unreported transfer of money, which could very well be tax fraud. Reich explained, “It is not accurate to say the FBI is investigating recruiting violations. … They think there are actual crimes at issue and, I suspect, the IRS might be interested as well as we may be looking at unreported ‘income’ to someone if payments were made.”
There’s also the issue that the concept of impermissible benefits, reportedly violated by numerous schools, are a bad idea. In the context of this case, these violations could be on the parts of players or schools. If a player were to meet with an agency official, who then paid for the dinner, that is a violation according to the NCAA. The agencies would then reap the benefits by being hired by the players when they turn pro. On the school side, there is the more insidious action of schools using funds to pay agents, who then pay the players. If these funds came from university budgets (as opposed to boosters), then there is an issue about spending tax dollars on forbidden activities.
All that being said, these rules are slightly ridiculous. In order to preserve some antiquated sense of “amateurism,” the NCAA has restricted the rights provided to everyone else in the workforce. Forbidding athletes from talking with agents before leaving college is essentially banning a networking opportunity. As for the question of the university spending money on players, the cost to taxpayers is much less than the benefits reaped.
Let’s take Ayton, for example. Even at being paid $100,000 (as ESPN reported), he’s vastly underpaid. In his first season in the NBA, Ayton is projected to make over $5 million (based off of NBA rookie pay scale projections, and where Ayton is currently predicted to be picked). Currently, Ayton has a win share total of 6.7. After the 2013-14 season, the Washington Post calculated the value of various players based off win shares. Julius Randle was worth over $1.5 million dollars to the University of Kentucky, and he had a season-long win share total of 5.9, less than Ayton. The same Washington Post article calculated the average value of a Division I player to be $212,080. Deandre Ayton made less than that, while being far above average. All of this goes to show, even after getting $100,000 more than he is legally allowed, Ayton deserves more.
Various figures in both college and the NBA have come out after the recent allegations and called for reform and payment of the players. This includes Lonzo Ball, LeBron James, Stan Van Gundy, and Dick Vitale. The argument has been echoed all across the sports world: “Everybody knows players get paid, why not make it legal?” If the current system leads to a scandal that encapsulates the highest profile teams and players, then maybe it’s time for the system to end. NCAA: pay your players, you [redacted].