The ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation examination of college basketball corruption will bring significant change, Kentucky Coach John Calipari said Wednesday.
“Behaviors are going to change now,” he said at the Southeastern Conference Media Day. “Like you’re not going to go do something (because of the possibility of) ‘Am I going to jail?’”
Georgia Coach Mark Fox wasn’t so sure. He suggested that getting an edge, in recruiting and elsewhere, is so ingrained in athletic competition that it’s all but impossible to eliminate cheating.
“If I play cards with my kids, OK, I’m going to do everything I’ve got to do to win,” Fox said. “So when competition is involved, you get people out of bounds. That’s why we have referees.
“When people’s greed outweighs their ethical values, you’ve got some significant problems.”
Several SEC coaches acknowledged there are problems. The ongoing FBI investigation has led to the arrest of four assistant coaches, including Chuck Person of Auburn. Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl declined comment, suggesting it was improper to talk about an ongoing FBI probe.
This week, Louisville formally fired its Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino, who had been implicated in a scheme to pay a recruit’s family $100,000 to play for U of L.
Nor would Alabama Coach Avery Johnson comment on the dismissal of Associate Athletic Director Kobe Baker, who ironically had once been on the NCAA rules enforcement staff.
No SEC coach said he or his program had been contacted by the FBI.
Several SEC coaches said they were not surprised by the allegations.
“You really hate to see it,” Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes said. “You really do. But the fact is it’s been going on for probably 100 years. Things that aren’t supposed to be going on.”
Allegations tied to the FBI investigation might only surprise those unfamiliar with college basketball, Fox said.
“I think it’s shocking to people because if you don’t live that world, you don’t have any sense that there might be some shady things going on,” the Georgia coach said.
The seismic-sized surprise was the FBI — not the NCAA — is doing the investigating.
“Was I shocked at some of the allegations? No, I was not shocked,” Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. “Was I surprised the FBI was involved? Absolutely.”
When asked why he did not find the allegations surprising, Kennedy said, “I just know the shoe company influence and third-party people involved in the culture of our sport. It’s been that way for a long, long time.”
The FBI has the power of subpoena and the threat of jail to make people cooperate.
“When they come in with those yellow jackets, it can’t be a good day ... ,” Kennedy said of the FBI involvement.
Kennedy then flashed his sense of humor. “They say you have to tell the truth,” he told reporters, “unlike when I talk to you guys.”
New Missouri coach Counzo Martin reminded reporters that the coaches implicated in the FBI investigation are people.
“What happens on the floor, it’s just a game,” he said. “But these guys have families. They have lives. They have children. And that’s not an easy thing to deal with.”
As for how to bring a greater sense of integrity to the sport, Calipari voiced support for an NCAA Commission on College Basketball charged with finding fixes. The UK coach said he liked the commission chair, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Martin said he could not support ending or curtailing summer recruiting, a time when coaches and prospects converge in games typically sponsored by shoe companies.
“One thing that shouldn’t happen (is) I don’t want to take away summer basketball for the youth,” the Missouri coach said. These settings offer “a lot of opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise.”
In an interview this month, Calipari voiced support for letting players receive payment for autographs or for the use of their likeness.
Fox did not sound convinced paying players was a solution.
“Let’s say the argument is let’s start paying players,” he said. “OK, let’s pay players. That doesn’t mean someone’s not going to try to give something on the side. To pay them more.”
The Georgia coach suggested what sounded like an honor system: Each school would make sure it had what he called a “clean house.”
But Fox did not sound convinced there are solutions.
“I don’t know solutions to all this,” he said. “If I did, I’d share them.”
Important upcoming dates
7 p.m. Friday in Rupp Arena (SEC)
Thomas More at Kentucky (exhibition)
7 p.m. Oct. 27 (SEC)
Morehead State at Kentucky (exhibition)
7 p.m. Oct. 30
Centre at Kentucky (exhibition)
7 p.m. Nov. 3 (SEC)