Local DI hoops coaches sound off on scandal, FBI probe

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Oakland head coach Greg Kampe believes the scandal is the cleansing college basketball needs.

As the basketball world copes with perhaps the biggest scandal ever to rock collegiate sports, local Division I basketball coaches are calling the last 48 hours — an FBI investigation, multiple arrests and federal raids,  Louisville coach Rick Pitino being placed on administrative leave, and the possibility of more marquee job losses to come — good for the game.

"Yes. Nobody thought 2008 was great for the correction of the stock market, but now look at the stock market today," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "And it's a parallel to that, greed and money and things like that.

"There's always a correction, and the last couple days and the next few weeks are going to be college basketball's correction."

It's never been a secret about what goes on in college athletics, especially in big-time college athletics, in terms of money being funneled to recruits or families of recruits, through boosters and others with something to gain — often, millions to be gained — down the road.

But while there have been rumblings about this school or that coach as far back as we can remember, it's always been difficult to prove.

That, of course, was back before two days ago, when college coaches thought they only had to worry about looking over their shoulder for the NCAA. The greatest threat used to be the loss of a job; now, all of a sudden, it's prison time.

"You know, I think it's obviously sad," Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. "There's long been suspicion by the fan bases that some stuff goes on. You never know how much. Now, there's specifics that are placed right out for the world to see, and so, you know, it's sad in that it's happening in our sport, and it happened in our sport, and then the black eye that it gives our sport.

"But I'm also optimistic about it being the first day of the rest of our lives."

Rick Pitino 'effectively fired' at Louisville

The FBI this week announced multiple arrests, including assistant coaches at big-time programs, employees for sports-apparel giants and financial advisers, accused of orchestrating an elaborate, big-money scheme to steer big-time recruits toward certain athletic brands — first in college, with a commitment to remain brand-loyal when those careers eventually led them to the NBA.

In the NBA, Adidas, Nike and Under Armour are constantly battling for the best pitchmen, often with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Now, this week, the FBI says the seeds often are planted long before the NBA is in the picture.

Pitino was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, and his lawyer correctly said he was "effectively fired." The million-dollar question is, who's next?

"I think there's a collective holding of the breath to see what else happens," said Hawkins, Western's head coach since 2003.

Said Kampe, Oakland's head coach since 1984: "I had a very good friend who was a coach and got fired, and in his press conference after he got fired, he made the statement, 'I wish I would've cheated.' ... He got fired because he couldn't win, not because he was cheating. I heard him say that years and years ago, and it really had a profound effect on me. It's out there. It's prevalent. Everybody that's in the business knows how it goes."

"... I'm also optimistic about it being the first day of the rest of our lives," Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins says.

The News reached out to every Division I head coach in Michigan, and Kampe and Hawkins were the only ones to respond for comment. Detroit Mercy's Bacari Alexander didn't respond to a request, nor did Central Michigan's Keno Davis, or Eastern Michigan's Rob Murphy through a spokesman.

A Michigan spokesman said John Beilein was recruiting and unavailable, and Michigan State's Tom Izzo was unavailable for comment.

It's a touchy time for everybody involved in the sport at the Division I level. Coaching is a fraternity, and everybody seems to know everybody. Coaches are worried about the state of the game, to be sure — especially with practices starting this week, and games next month — but they're also concerned about their friends who might lose their jobs.

"Now they've gotten into the underbelly of this world," Kampe said. "Some people that are revered and thought very highly regarded of, are going down."

Assistants at Auburn, Arizona, Southern California and Oklahoma State were arrested over alleged bribery and fraud. Big-time programs like Louisville, South Carolina and Miami also were implicated — though not specifically named — in the FBI's initial report, which many believe is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to what the FBI knows, and who else is in serious trouble.

Pitino joined Louisville's athletic director Tom Jurich is also being placed on administrative leave.

"Everybody's in the same boat right now, in terms of, where else does this go," Hawkins said. "That is not where my head is. ... What I have kind of turned to more of, I don't know what our game is going to look like. I don't know this is going to reform.
"We all know as coaches what we're going to be doing in July (recruiting). Right now, I have no idea what we're going to be doing next July."

Recruiting has evolved, and intensified, so much in such a short time.

Apparel companies are greatly behind the rise. Adidas and Nike long have funded and outfitted AAU circuits across the nation, with seasons that run from May through June, culminating in high-profile showcases — the Peach Jam in Georgia for Nike, The Gauntlet in Dallas for Adidas. Under Armour got into the business in the last couple years, and has a season-ending Sunflower Showcase in Kansas.

At these big-time events, college coaches can get up-close looks at top-100 or even top-300 prospects.

Given one Adidas executive was among those arrested, and Nike was the subject of a raid, what will become of the AAU circuit, as we know it?

"Now," said Hawkins, speaking of the FBI investigation, "what is going to be the response from our presidents, athletic directors, the NCAA, to this mess?"

Time will tell, though given the bombshell the FBI dropped Tuesday — catching coaches coast to coast completely flat-footed, as well as the NCAA, while not coincidentally sending stocks spiraling for all of the Big Three shoe companies — and the swift fallout in just one day since, this is just the beginning of something really, really big.

And the end might be not be coming anytime soon. How many teams will be scrambling to fill coaching vacancies on the eve the season? How many programs will be on probation by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around? (That would mean more at-large bids for mid-majors, by the way, an apropos gift for the schools that have been hit hard in this recruiting era.)

Will this eventually lead to college football being investigated?

So many questions, so much suspense.

"There are gonna be some people that are gonna surprise, because they thought, 'Oh that guy was clean,'" Kampe said. "It's not gonna be as big as people think, but it's gonna be bigger than what we know.

"And then, like with everything else, there's gonna be some people that skirt around it.

"Whenever a big net is thrown out there, there's always some sharks that get away."