NEW YORK — The college basketball world got rocked a few weeks ago.
Blindsided might be a better word. Stunned. Stupefied.
An executive of the Adidas shoe company and a handful of other people, including a few Division I assistant coaches, were implicated in a criminal complaint alleging that they arranged bribes to get high school players to attend certain universities. It’s the result of a lengthy operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Those involved could possibly face charges of wire fraud and money laundering, and the scandal already has prompted the University of Louisville to part ways with legendary head coach Rick Pitino.
The shock waves are still reverberating.
Here is one of the most surprising aspects of the whole thing: There are head coaches in the Big Ten who think this could end up being a good thing for their sport.
“I think any time there’s a speed bump in any sport, a change occurs that’s usually for the better,’’ said Brad Underwood, Illinois’ first-year head coach, at the conference’s annual media day on Thursday. “What that is right now, I don’t know if anybody knows the answer to. I think where there’s an opportunity to make a change, we usually make a change where the game becomes better.’’
This clearly is more than a speed bump.
Those involved, including an assistant coach who worked for Underwood at Oklahoma State, could face jail time if convicted.
But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said the FBI’s involvement could be a “game-changer." The NCAA can’t run a sting operation, tap phone lines or issue subpoenas. The FBI can do all of the above, and that's what it might take to cleanse the college game.
“I don't think anybody ever thought the FBI would get involved in that kind of stuff," McCaffery said. “I think that was a little bit of a surprise. And I think the NCAA knows more. Everybody asks ‘Why doesn't the NCAA do something?’ Well, they don't have the authority to do what the FBI did."
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said he is not shocked that the FBI has gotten involved. It’s not the first time it has cast its net over college basketball, although the previous instances mostly involved gambling and the fixing of games.
“We're all concerned, and we should be," Delany said. “We don't know what we don't know. … We’ve had no contact with the government. We really don't have any facts other than what we've read. I'm sure it will unfold and we'll learn more as things, as investigations become more public."
The shock waves led the Associated Press to conduct a survey of universities around the country last week, asking if the recent scandal has caused them to review their basketball programs to make sure they are doing things correctly.
Only two of the 14 Big Ten schools — Michigan State and Wisconsin — said they have taken that step, but that doesn’t mean the topic is just being ignored elsewhere.
“It allows you to have great discussions with your staff on what they’re coming across," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “What are the conundrums that are involved in this recruiting process? What are people asking for that you’re afraid to tell me? There can be no fear of communication on this. So it starts a dialogue that wouldn’t exist ordinarily until something like this comes to light."
In the wake of the scandal, the NCAA has formed a commission to study college basketball, with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith being one of the members. Delany is encouraging all Big Ten coaches to reach out to Smith, and Miles said he plans to do just that.
McCaffery said the coaches also can do a better job of policing themselves.
“What you can do is when you know something is going on, turn that team in," he said. “Who does that? Not a lot of people do that. I do it. I've turned programs in, and I'll continue to do that when I know that there's stuff going on."
Miles said he’s never turned in another school but only because he felt he couldn’t prove anything.
He said there have been instances in which a recruit or his representative asked for a payout to attend Nebraska. The players inevitably ended up going to another school, but Miles had no real proof that anything improper took place.
“If I had evidence, I would turn somebody in," he said.
Miles said he initially was concerned that news of the Adidas scandal would give college basketball “a black eye."
“In many respects, everybody panicked when they first heard about it," McCaffery said. “I think they thought that everything is wrong with everything, and that's just not the case. There's some isolated cases. Maybe there's more to come. We don't know."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo had similar worries until he remembered what his mentor, Jud Heathcote, always told him, that 10 percent of the people in every walk of life do not do things the right way. He said he believes the cheaters are a distinct minority.
“So I wouldn't paint the brush over college basketball or football or athletics," Izzo said. “But I do think we need to shore up some things, to be honest with you. I think there's just getting to be too many people involved with these kids in general where their circle used to be very tight.
“In the last 15 years the circle has grown. In the Twitter era, the circle has exploded. I'm not sure that's good for them or good for us or good for basketball."
McCaffery said Big Ten coaches talked about the situation a little bit when they met Wednesday in New York.
He said nothing much came out of those conversations.
It would seem the coaches are waiting for the other shoes to drop. Pun intended.
“The hard thing is you don’t know where it’s going so it’s really a waste of time and effort to try to figure out where it’s at," McCaffery said. “You deal with it when it happens. I just want everything cleaned up."