Dick Vitale says college basketball recruiting has become a "joke," and "cesspool."
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I connected with Dick Vitale at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., while he was walking between rides, enjoying time with his twin 9-year-old grandsons.
Didn't matter. He was ready to talk, talk about the jarring column that he wrote for ESPN.com last Friday. College basketball doesn't have a more passionate and persistent advocate than Vitale.
That's what separated this column from others Vitale has written. It was a different Vitale than we usually hear on ESPN. Plus, his column came the same week that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was quoted saying that cheating is "probably 20 percent," of the college game and that he had lost prospects to coaches who had cheated.
"It's probably 70 percent of the top 20 percent (of player recruitments)," Izzo told USA Today.
That was a bit confusing, but I believe that's 14 of the top 20 players – and it certainly connected with what Vitale wrote. Vitale said recruiting had become "a joke." That many top AAU coaches are peddling players to the highest bidders. That he was "embarrassed" to be part of the game. Ethics, he said, "mean zilch."
Strong words. I wondered what inspired Vitale's outburst. So I called him.
"I've been talking to a lot of coaches this summer and it's become a mess," he said. "It really has. The time has come that we need somebody with the clout and power to become a czar in college basketball. It's a joke what is going on."
I asked Vitale for specifics. That's the factor too often missing in this debate.
He talked about the same problems people have been writing about for years. Agents and runners connecting with young players, supplying cash and gear, then guiding them toward their programs. Boosters making donations to AAU programs to direct prospects toward their favorite schools. Coaches hiring AAU coaches to establish pipelines.
"We don't have anybody in charge that can change the situation," Vitale said.
Sure we do – college coaches.
They can do more to force change than anybody. They know what's going on. They certainly know enough to start NCAA investigators on the proper trail.
When Vitale and Izzo start howling about how toxic the situation has become, then it must be remarkably ugly. I'm not questioning that.
But coaches and connected observers like Vitale have to contribute to the fix by cooperating with NCAA personnel that are supposed to monitor recruiting. They have to engage, not simply complain.
"It annoys the hell out of me that everybody wants to pin it on somebody else and the real reason there's cheating in college basketball is because of the guys that are at the universities and the colleges," said Dan Dakich, the former Indiana coach who now calls games for ESPN and hosts an Indianapolis radio show.
"There's cheating because there is a market that the universities and colleges put out there to get a good player. To blame anybody else is idiotic."
Dakich stressed that he wasn't criticizing Vitale or Izzo. He was simply saying that this is hardly a summer basketball or AAU problem. Runners can only peddle players if there are schools willing to meet their prices. And coaches are willing to meet the prices because there is little fear of being caught or punished.
Check the news from the University of Central Florida last week. The NCAA determined school officials were guilty of dealing with runners to deliver cash payments to players. UCF received a one-season post-season ban, five years probation and scholarship reductions. Basketball coach Donnie Jones served a three-game suspension last season, no further penalties.
"A complete embarrassment," Dakich said. "And the best they could do was a three-game suspension? There's a risk/reward to all of this, and right now what's the risk?"
There's not much risk. And there's not enough ownership by coaches who understand what is happening in college basketball. Until that changes, the nonsense will continue.