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The Mountain West Conference Dealing with Sports Agents

Some thoughts on the ongoing investigation.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Corruption, in college basketball is not a new topic. There have always been rumors about the nods, the winks and gym bags full of cash to entice elite talent to come play college basketball at campuses around the country. Jerry Tarkanian and his University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels were thought of to be one of those types of teams. Although in defense of Tarkanian and the Rebels that was never proven.

Times are changing and it isn’t just the NCAA that is investigating college basketball. A new player with resources the NCAA could only imagine of having is now investigating the coming and goings in college basketball. Enter the eaves dropping, email watching, informant paying Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yes, the Feds and the Department of Justice the same government agency that is investigating voting fraud and the involvement of a foreign government in the United States Presidential election is investigating college basketball.

Already several assistant coaches have been fired all of them coming from Power Five Conferences. Tony Bland formerly of USC was once an assistant, and surprise-surprise, a high level recruiter for the San Diego State Aztecs.

During a meeting at a restaurant on USC’s campus in August recorded by an undercover FBI agent, Bland told Dawkins and Sood that if they funded the families of USC players and recruits, he would direct them to use the men’s services, the criminal complaint says.

“My part of the job can be to get the parents, and to introduce them to Christian [Dawkins] and say, ‘Hey, I trust him and vouch for him,’” Bland said, according to the complaint.

The coach added: “I can definitely get the players .... And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”1

So far the Mountain West is looking pretty clean with only Malik Pope of the Aztec being on a recent spread-sheet of an agent which was released by Yahoo Sports.

San Diego State acted swiftly to protect their image by suspending Pope until they investigated his involvement. “There are spreadsheets detailing who got paid, how much they got paid and how much more they were planning to pay,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “The feds got everything they wanted and much more. Don’t think it will only be players who ended up signing with ASM (Sports firm) that got paid. Those spreadsheets cast a wide net throughout college basketball. If your school produced a first-round pick in the past three years, be worried.”2

There’s potential damage to the reputation of the program, along with bruised traction for a team that has won three in a row — including a rout of UNLV that unveiled the group’s best basketball of the season.

The team loses a co-captain who’s one of just 33 players to score 1,000 points for the program. Pope is the team’s leading scorer and essentially tied with Jalen McDaniels as the No. 1 rebounder. Minutes likely will be spread among Max Montana, Matt Mitchell, Jordan Schakel and Nolan Narain.

“I don’t know at this time,” Dutcher said. “We’re going to do an internal investigation and where that leads, and how quickly it leads, will be based on what the athletic department discovers and how quickly they act on it.”

Loans, especially from potential pro agents, are considered an impermissible benefit for student-athletes by the NCAA because they are not readily available to the general student body and violate “amateurism” rules. Sanctions can range from a few games to an entire season.3

Unless we discover a lot more, it’s his and his alone.4 They didn’t discover anything new and he like all of the other implicated players are back on the hard wood.

And ESPN reported Pope constituted the first suspension in the wake of the report. That didn’t happen at Michigan State or Alabama, where Wooden Award “Late Season Top 20” stars Miles Bridges and Collin Sexton play. That didn’t happen at Duke, where starter Wendell Carter found his way into the documents. It is refreshing and encouraging to see the Mountain West take a lead in doing the right thing by acting quickly but also by being fair to the student and clearing him to play when the facts were learned.

UNLV’s Patrick McCaw was also on the list for a $178 lunch that he went on after he was done playing for the Rebels. Nothing should happen there either so the Mountain West is looking clean so far but if you have had a first round pick recently it is sounding like more could come about later. So don’t be surprised if more is revealed later.

Former Nevada coach and current Georgia Bulldog basketball coach had this to say about all of the new revelations: “I’m disgusted,” said Fox, one of the most vocal advocates for a massive overhaul to college basketball ethics, after his team’s 93-82 win on Saturday. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting.”5

“It starts with our coaches, and then you ask how the NCAA has handled it,” Fox said. “The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That’d be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way? I’m past anger, sadness. It’s just disgusting, and we’re really hurting the game, and the game has been so good to everybody.”6

Earlier this week ESPN reported that Arizona coach Sean Miller was recorded discussing paying $100,000 to lock up a commitment from Deandre Ayton. NCAA President Mark Emmert said this in response to the Miller revelation, ”First and foremost, that’s a decision the school has to make,” Emmert said in an interview on CBS.7

None among the more than 20 programs and two-dozen-plus players included in the Yahoo! report, stretching from bluebloods North Carolina and Kentucky to Texas, USC and more, stepped in front faster than the Aztecs.8

Assistant coaches who have recruited a high level will be suspect of arranging meetings with agents and securing money for commitments to play at certain schools. Head coaches can have deniability with the way things are set up. I have hard time imagining to many head coaches like Rick Patino and Sean Miller being directly involved with agents, money and players. They just have way to much to lose to be that stupid but the FBI knows way more than me, so only time will tell on this front.

What is clear coming out from all of this is that players will always be a target of agents. Lebron James, Kevin Durrant and many more NBA players have advocated paying the players for their contributions on the court. One thing is for certain the players are going to get paid by somebody. Why not make it above board and have it be transparent so the playing field can be leveled to an even greater degree. Because right now it is not.

Edit: Both Pope and Smith have been reinstated, as this takes yet another sharp turn, with no signs of slowing down.