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Ron Cook: College basketball's dirty underbelly exposed once again

Ron Cook: College basketball's dirty underbelly exposed once again

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PITTSBURGH — Today's topic is college basketball. I have allotted time after this discussion for a shower. The sport is filthy dirty.

What a couple of weeks it was for coaches.

— Sean Miller was fired at Arizona after 12 seasons, presumably because he has been strongly linked to a federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

— Bill Self was given a lifetime contract at Kansas despite his program being at the center of the same FBI investigation.

— Roy Williams retired at North Carolina and was practically canonized despite academic fraud that ran rampant at the university and involved many of his players.

I don't get any of it.

Actually, I do get the Miller firing. What I don't understand is why it took so long. The investigation into the Arizona program has been going on since 2017. A former Arizona assistant coach was heard on an FBI-intercepted wire tape telling a sports agent that Miller was paying a former player $10,000 a month to play at Arizona. The NCAA charged the school with five Level I violations and charged Miller for not demonstrating "that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance and monitored his staff." Miller has denied all wrongdoing.

I want to believe Miller. Like me, he is a graduate of Blackhawk High School, where his father, John, was a legendary coach. I knew of Sean as a young teenager when he showed off his ball-handling skills on the "Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson." I covered him when he was a terrific point guard at Pitt. I watched him have big-time success as a coach at Xavier and Arizona, doing everything but make it to a Final Four.

I like Miller a lot. But it's almost impossible to defend him after the allegations and violations. Pitt knew all about them. There were reports Miller had interest in the Pitt job when Kevin Stallings was fired after the 2017-18 season, even though the Arizona job is much better than the Pitt job. Pitt didn't want to take a chance on Miller. It was the right call. The Arizona administrators finally agreed they couldn't stick with Miller any longer. That probably had something to do with the fact Miller's program failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 2019 as well as this year because of a self-imposed ban. There was no tournament in 2020 because of COVID-19.

The lifetime deal for Self is almost beyond belief because Kansas also was in the middle of the 2017 FBI investigation. The school was charged with five Level I violations by the NCAA, offenses that were "egregious" and "severe," according to the NCAA. That doesn't matter to the Kansas brass. Self's contract now reads that he can't be fired "due to any current infractions matter."

I guess I do understand that. Kansas basketball put Lawrence, Kan., on the map long before Self arrived in 2003. You've heard of James Naismith, Kansas' first coach? How about Phog Allen? Larry Brown? The aforementioned Williams? Self certainly has continued the tradition. Basketball is the biggest thing the school has going for it. It certainly isn't football. The basketball program brings in millions. The university isn't going to take a chance on losing that. But its win-no-matter-what, rules-be-damned attitude with Self's contract is about offensive as it gets.

Of course, that's the same thing that drives the LSU basketball program, which still is headed — almost unbelievably — by Will Wade. The school also was a part of the 2017 FBI investigation, which still is ongoing. In August 2020, cited an NCAA enforcement document, saying Wade "arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men's basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or non-scholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects' enrollment at LSU."

How do the people who have kept Wade on as LSU's coach sleep at night?

Then, there's Williams. He was a terrific coach, winning more than 900 games and taking Kansas to four Final Fours before moving on to North Carolina, where he won national championships in 2005, 2009 and 2017. But the genuflection for Ol' Roy has been a little much. The academic fraud at North Carolina involved fake classes that enabled dozens of the school's athletes to gain and maintain eligibility. Call me crazy, but I can't believe Williams wasn't aware of the scheme. Former North Carolina player Rashad McCants, a member of the 2005 championship team, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" in 2014 that Williams "100 percent" knew. North Carolina avoided NCAA punishment only because the fake classes were not exclusive to athletes, but also were available to other students.

Williams said he was shocked to hear McCants' accusations. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel better.

Time for my shower.

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