“The game is good.”
That was the message Jamie Dixon delivered Saturday afternoon after defeating Baylor, and he’s right. The game isn’t good - it’s great. With March nearly upon us, the golden season for college athletics, NCAA Basketball remains as popular as ever, with anticipation for this year’s March Madness Tournament through the roof - even if most people believe it may be a title that is vacated down the road.
With programs like Kansas, Texas, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville, and more embroiled in this scandal, the Blue Bloods of the sport are on high alert. But in the meantime, the games go on - even if some of the big name coaches, do not.
Over the weekend, Arizona coach Sean Miller - who had been caught on tape essentially saying “when it comes to money, talk to me” in regards to Deandre Ayton’s recruitment - elected not to coach his team against Oregon (though Ayton, a likely top three pick in the NBA draft this summer, did play in the game). Rick Pitino has already been fired and Louisville has vacated their 2013 National Championship - the first team to do so - and several agents and assistant coaches from across college hoops have been implicated, some even arrested.
Jamie Dixon, who has not been named in the suit (neither has Pittsburg or TCU) understands the pressure these coaches face, even at the most successful of programs. “Well, I’ve been doing this a long time. Every day in this business, you have to make decisions and choices. You have to make decisions that you can live with and choices that you feel comfortable with. My belief is that if you can’t tell somebody what you did, then it’s probably not the right thing to be doing.”
Coach Dixon has talked on multiple occasions in his post game press conferences about how often he speaks directly with his staff about what is, and what isn’t, a violation - addressing the dangers head on. In October, when the first round of arrests went down, he had this to say: “We were informed to do that (talk to assistants and try and get ahead of any issues) by our administration. But I felt quite comfortable. We continue to lecture our guys about never going down that road, because there are challenges out there every day. Every day we face some kind of decision that we have to make a choice.” He added that “I think we’ll see improvements. I think it’s a good day, to be honest. I think some things will get cleaned up and talked about.”
Assistant coach Ryan Miller, an ace recruiter for the Frogs, went one step further in talking about the process that TCU goes through, one that doesn’t just involve the student-athlete, but the entire family. He spoke to TCU 360’s Garrett Podell in October on the subject.
“I think first and foremost anywhere you try to recruit the kid, the parent, the high school coach, and if you can cover those bases, you don’t have the outside people coming into play,” Patrick said. “I think we try to do a good job here to try and know the kid, get to know the parents and the high school coach, and usually when you do that, good things happen from there.”
NCAA president Mark Emmert has been panned for his response, in which he talked about making changes without a clear statement on what they will be and how they will effect NCAA Basketball right now.
Emmert on CBS “Some of our rules have been from different age and it’s reached a crescendo. We need to go in and look at the rules and see how it fits for current context. We’re really serious about making really systemic change starting with spring and going forward.”— Tracy Wolfson (@tracywolfson) February 24, 2018
It’s not just fans, coaches, and players ripping Emmert, either. Detroit Pistons’ head coach Stan Van Gundy came out with possibly the harshest criticism of all.
“The NCAA is one of the worst organizations — maybe the worst organization — in sports,” Van Gundy told reporters. “They certainly don’t care about the athlete. They’re going to act like they’re appalled by all these things going on in college basketball. Please. It’s ridiculous, and it’s all coming down on the coaches.”
No program should start throwing rocks in glass houses, as the Yahoo bombshell report is likely just the tip of the iceberg. But it’s refreshing to listen to Coach Dixon speak so transparently about the temptations that are out there and how he, and his staff, try and avoid them.
“Obviously, a lot of people watching, talking, going, and with that... there’s things out there. There’s temptations. But I have a great staff, and we will face challenges every day, and you have to acknowledge that. Because once you think there’s not, then you let your guard down, and then you make a mistake. So it’s constantly remembering what you’re here for, and who you’re representing. We talk about repping the school, representing your family, I mean, all those things matter.”
It remains to be seen how the report will affect the game as a whole, and more directly, the Big 12 conference, who now have three schools (Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma State) embroiled in the scandal at various levels. But, the one thing we can be certain of, is there will be sweeping changes and likely hordes of vacated wins. The game may never be the same - or might not change at all. It is the NCAA, after all.
College Basketball analyst and lovable crazy person Dick Vitale, for one, has an answer to solve this problem, according to what he told TMZ Sports:
”(The NCAA) is making zillions of dollars ... why not allow it,” Vitale says.
”Let them get paid. I really believe that in my heart, because this has gotten totally out of control right now.”
In the meantime, Jamie Dixon can’t be worried too much about what’s happening across the college basketball landscape - he is focused on trying to get his team into the tournament, and will let the rest sort itself out.