Back in 1989 I wrote a book called Personal Fouls which told of the wiles of one of the most corrupt coaches in the history of college basketball. His name was Jim Valvano, and in conjunction with his buddy, North Carolina State Chancellor Bruce Poulton, the two set up a nefarious scheme that allowed Valvano to recruit any player he wanted, regardless of academic ability, keep him in the school regardless of his grades, and then toss him out into the world unschooled when he no longer had use for him.
He did other egregious things as well, including telling two or three top high school players who played the same position on the court that if they came to NC State, they would start. He broke a lot of players' hearts with his pathological behavior, but because he was a "winner" he was never called to task. Until Personal Fouls.
Valvano stressed to his players the importance of making money in basketball. Unfortunately for his players, he was the one making the millions. They were allowed to make nothing, and it wasn't a coincidence that at both Iona and NC State he coached talented players who were investigated for shaving points.
After the book came out, Poulton resigned and Valvano was forced to resign as both athletic director and coach. (His resignation has never stopped his diehard supporters from saying I made the thing up.) Valvano then signed with ESPN to be a broadcaster and went on to become the face of college basketball. A year later, before he died of cancer, he made his valiant plea that is aired over and over on ESPN that one should "never give in, never give up." Over the years the V Foundation has raised many millions of dollars to raise money to fight cancer, and Valvano has become a God. His dismissal from NC State has been wiped from his resume.
I bring this up, not to reopen old wounds, but because I found what happened after the book came out to be most revealing about the current state of college sports.
The NCAA called me, saying they wanted to investigate my charges. I told them all they had to do was interview the players I interviewed and root around North Carolina State and interview professors whom Valvano was strong-arming to give his basketball players passing grades. The NCAA didn't do either of those things.
In the end the NCAA "discovered" that several of the Wolfpack players had sold their extra sneakers for money, and for that NC State received a slap on the wrist. But what about the illegal things Poulton and Valvano had done? Not a word.
What if the NCAA had done a thorough investigation? I often wondered. What if the NCAA had fined the university $10 million or fined Valvano $1 million? Perhaps things might have changed in college sports. To me, it was clear that the NCAA was perfectly happy with the system as it stood. What was most important, I could see, was that everyone was making tons of money, and anyone who tried to upset the apple cart would be a target.
Personal Fouls did have one positive effect: after I revealed that only one of Valvano's basketball players had graduated in the nine years he was the coach, the NCAA started keeping graduation records. Parents then had a clearer idea of which coach actually cared about his child's academics and which didn't. It was something, at least.
Today the scandals in college sports continue unabated. There have been scandals at USC, Oregon, Ohio State, Auburn, North Carolina, Tennessee, LSU, and most recently, at Miami. The reason for that is simple: there is too much money at stake for college coaches and/or players to bother conforming to the archaic NCAA rules, which basically allow the colleges and the coaches to make millions and millions of dollars while the athletes are permitted zero. If that isn't a formula for scandal, I don't know what is.
Recent scandals have made it perfectly clear that the NCAA has no intention of changing this corrupt system. As a result, colleges and coaches are almost never sanctioned in a meaningful way, and for the most part, neither are the athletes.
Consider the Cam Newton case. Newton, a talented quarterback, was a member of the University of Florida football team when his arrest for burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice ended his career in Gainesville. Later, after he'd transferred out, it was revealed that he had cheated on papers three times at UF and would have been thrown out had he not left.
Newton was still eligible to play after he left Florida, so Cecil Newton, Cam's father, called two assistant athletic directors at Mississippi State and told them that Cam would play there for $180,000. When Mississippi State said no, he ended up at Auburn.
Cecil Newton is a minister at the Holy Zion Center of Deliverance in Newnan, Georgia. Before his son signed to play at Auburn, his church was in such disrepair that the city was going to order it torn down. But Cecil Newton asked for a reprieve. He had some money coming soon, he told the city council, and then suddenly, somehow, significant repairs were made to the church. His father denies the money came from Auburn.
When the NCAA investigated, it found no wrongdoing. Cam Newton was allowed to play his senior year at Auburn, and he took the team to a national championship. He then signed a lucrative pro contract for millions of dollars.
Consider the Reggie Bush scandal. While Bush was playing for USC, he was paid a lot of money by two agents who were vying for his business. What was the punishment meted out? Bush had to return his Heisman Trophy. Big deal. USC was hit with a post-season ban for two years and lost the games it won in 2004. No one cared. His coach, Pete Carroll, was never sanctioned. He had jumped to Seattle in the NFL. Bush signed for millions of dollars with New Orleans. In other words, the NCAA made it look like it was meting out punishment, but in reality no one got hurt. Maintaining the corrupt order seems to be the NCAA's number one job.
Recently Nevin Shapiro, a booster for the University of Miami, a man who managed to cheat clients of $941 million in a Ponzi scheme, admitted that over the years he paid 76 Hurricane players money and bought strippers, prostitutes and abortions for players.
What will be the NCAA punishment? For now, some of the current players are being forced to miss a game or two, and they have to give back the chump change they were given. The question is whether the NCAA is going to do something drastic, like give the Miami program the death penalty. It'll never happen. As far as the NCAA is concerned, if a college athlete can figure out a way to make money, then it's his to keep, unless he gets caught, and then he has to give it back, unless he turns pro.
Isn't it time to admit the obvious: Division I college football and basketball are professional sports where everyone, including the most talented players, are getting paid? If a college player deserves it, why shouldn't we let him keep whatever he earns from the rich boosters and hungry agents? If we do, nothing will change, but the scandals will end, and the NCAA will stop being a laughingstock.
Peter Golenbock's books include Personal Fouls, Balls (written with Graig Nettles), The Bronx Zoo (written with Yankee pitcher Sparky Lyle), and George: The Poor Little Rich Boy Who Built the Yankee Empire.