Ellen Gerst / Gavel Media

College Hoops Scandal Fuels Debate Over Paying Student Athletes

The college basketball landscape was set ablaze this week when Yahoo Sports published documents from the FBI’s corruption probe into the backroom dealings of college basketball.

The investigation revealed that many of the nation’s top programs were involved in a bribery scheme to steer NBA prospects towards certain schools, financial advisors, and agents. Over 20 schools have been implicated so far in the ongoing crackdown on what has been called the “the dark underbelly of college basketball.”

Suspicions of a “pay-to-play” scandal have been around for decades, but there is now concrete evidence to back them up, most blatantly a wiretapped conversation between Arizona head coach Sean Miller and agent Christian Dawkins in which Miller discussed the payment of $100,000 to secure the services of star freshman Deandre Ayton.

Dawkins, one of the biggest names in the probe, is a former associate of Andy Miller of ASM Sports. Agencies like ASM Sports bribed college coaches such as Tony Bland of USC, Chuck Person of Auburn, and more in order to persuade recruits and their families to sign with those agencies.

Many past and present college stars were named in the damning report such as Dennis Smith Jr. of NC State and the Dallas Mavericks, Miles Bridges of Michigan State, and Markelle Fultz of Washington and the Philadelphia 76ers.

The NCAA model of college basketball is clearly broken in its present state, especially with these recently unearthed allegations making up only the tip of the iceberg. The situation fuels a debate that has engulfed the college sports world for years: Should student-athletes be paid?

Many high-profile NBA players and coaches have spoken out on the matter in response to the news of the NCAA scandal, and their answer is overwhelmingly "yes."

When asked for his opinion on the matter, Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball claimed that “Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid and that’s how it is. Everybody’s getting paid anyway. You might as well make it legal.”

Ball’s teammate Kyle Kuzma, cited in the report as having received $10,000 while at Utah, called out the NCAA in a tweet for “generating billions of dollars to only pay its student athletes a cost of attendance of $900 dollars a month.” Kuzma’s tweet especially holds weight regarding the what many see as the NCAA’s unfair treatment of its players.

The NCAA earns about $1 billion annually in revenue generated by its student athletes, about 90% of which comes from March Madness alone. However, while the schools and the NCAA get richer, the players earn nothing and are forced to follow strict guidelines.

There is clearly enough money to compensate student athletes for the revenue they generate through ticket sales, merchandise, and video games, but pundits disagree that simply offering athletes money isn’t going to fix the inequality and corruption at the heart of college basketball.

They argue that the disparity between the “blue bloods” of the sport that dominate year-in and year-out like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and the rest of the pack will only grow. The bigger programs will be able to shell out more money to recruits, and the chain of dominance by the same schools will likely continue in the same fashion that it has.

The title 'student athlete' may become obsolete with academics as an afterthought. An alternative would be setting an allowance to cover players’ expenses every month—a fixed rate setting the bar equal among all programs.

There is a glaring flaw in the concept, though; coaches, agents, and schools could simply start funneling extra money to prospects under the table. The current scandal shows that programs of all sizes are willing to bend the rules, and they will just adapt to any attempts to level the playing field.

The cycle of corruption will always continue as long as there are rules to break. The debate over whether paying college athletes will fix the sanctity of college basketball rages on, but if there is anything everyone can agree on, it is that the current state of college sports is broken.

Analysts across the country argue that the NCAA should cease to exist, the one-and-done rule should be eliminated, or that shoe companies should be kept out of AAU basketball, but it is clear that compensation for college athletes is the root of the problem. Until that problem is solved, the same debates of how to “fix” college basketball will continue to resurface every year.