March Madness has an entirely new meaning this year.
The annual NCAA Tournament begins in earnest Thursday with the sport under a cloud of suspicion and uncertainty. In fact, capital “M” March Madness now should refer solely to the accusations swirling around so many of the sport’s programs. The tournament, once reliably a feel-good story on the sport’s calendar, has been demoted to March madness and this year is more a glaring reminder of FBI investigations and ledger notations.
The good news is there is one group of people out there who can fix things. The fix can even be relatively quick. It cannot, however, be painless.
The best way, maybe the only way, to clean up college basketball is for the coaches who are playing by the rules to start naming those who aren’t. College basketball itself is not dirty, South Carolina head coach Frank Martin insists.
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“There’s some dirty people in college basketball, it doesn’t mean college basketball’s dirty,” he said.
So root out the dirty people.
It’s time for Martin and the rest of his colleagues who say they are on the right side of the fence to start naming the people who aren’t. That combined with an actual willingness by the NCAA to run cheaters out of the game would fix the problem quickly. It can be simple; it just can’t be easy. Naming names could violate trusts; it could ruin friendships; it could also save the sport from itself.
Sure, coaches will allude. They will hint. They will point a finger at a faceless and nameless “they.”
“Sometimes I know because I’ve been in this business for so long and I’ve been in it on both sides, so I’ve got people on the high school side that I have great relationships that I don’t agree with how they conduct their business,” Martin said. “That doesn’t mean as people, we didn’t sit down and drink a beer together back in the day. OK? That doesn’t mean I’m doing business with them. You understand what I’m saying? One of my guys will come in and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m not messing what that guy.’ I’m not messing with that guy because at the end of the day this guy’s gonna be involved and I’m not messing what that guy.”
If coaches would start naming “this guy” and “that guy” then investigations could be conducted and everyone would know who’s on the level and who’s not.
“I’ve been in a hotel room, not here but at the other school, where a guy put me in a spot where he tells me how much money he spends on this and this,” Martin said. “I just stopped him cold in his tracks. I said, ‘Stop. Let me explain something to you brother. I did what you do for 16 years. I didn’t ask anyone for a penny because I do this for the kids. I don’t do it for my benefit. Don’t ever dial my number again.’ And I walked out of the room.”
Why not walk from that room straight to the NCAA or even the nearest podium and tell that story? Former Maryland head coach Gary Williams, who won the 2002 national championship with the Terrapins, wishes he had done that in his day, he said recently on the Basketball Coaches DC Podcast.
“I feel disappointed in myself, because I knew this stuff was going on for a long time, and I never really was vocal enough,” Williams said on that broadcast. “I got criticized a lot in terms of recruiting because [I] didn’t get a certain player, but I should’ve been more forceful in my response to that, because coaches know when certain coaches are doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
If current college coaches don’t start naming names and the sport is eventually swallowed by this scandal, they will have the same regret and more in a few years.