Steve Smith became the latest college basketball assistant last week to take a hit in the ongoing probe into college basketball corruption. Clemson announced they were firing him after seven years due to the comments heard on a federal wiretap that involves Christian Dawkins and Marty Blazer. Head coach Brad Brownell said he supported the decision to terminate Smith, with the implication being he had no knowledge of what Smith was doing, nor did he support it.
This continues a pattern that’s occurred at places like Auburn, where former star player and longtime assistant Chuck Person is headed for federal prison as a result of comments on a wiretap, while head coach Bruce Pearl is basking in the glow of a Final Four appearance. Even some of the players originally involved in the case got to play in the Final Four.
So far the lone big name head coach who’s been affected by this scandal has been Rick Pitino at Louisville. He was fired, but had already had so many different scandals this was more the result of multiple issues than a direct link to the current scandal.
Pitino by the way claimed when he was fired, and maintains in his lawsuit against both the NCAA and Louisville, that he was unaware of any violations happening while he was coach and played no role in it.
LSU also recently put head coach Will Wade back on the payroll, after temporarily suspending him for comments that surfaced on yet another wiretap. Wade initially refused to co-operate with the NCAA and school’s inquires, but evidently did enough over time to convince them of his innocence.
This whole set of circumstances should offend any reasonably objective person because it’s widely known that the biggest difference between college and pro basketball, at least on the Power Conference level, is coaching autonomy.
The NBA is a players league, and if a coach can’t get along with a star player, he’s not going to last long unless the team owner intercedes on his behalf. The kind of power people like Tom Izzo at Michigan State or Mike Krzyewski at Duke weld doesn’t happen on the pro level. A rare exception is Bill Belichek in New England, or Bill Parcells when he was with the Giants, but both served a double function as coach and general manager. The San Antonio Spurs’ Greg Popovich might be the one pro basketball coach who can operate like a college one, free to yell and scream at players with impunity. But for the most part, NBA coaches lack that kind of authority or power.
So why is it only assistants are getting fired and/or going to prison if this scandal goes as deep as many feel?
Whether it’s an appropriate use of tax dollars for the FBI to be probing college athletics is a separate issue, as is the question of whether or not players should be paid. It’s obvious bigtime college football and basketball is anything BUT amateur sports. But until someone or some group changes the rules, players aren’t supposed to be getting money under the table, and parents aren’t supposed to be paid to send their sons to X or Y schools.
This situation long ago became untenable. Hopefully one day everyone involved will see the folly of pretending billion-dollar sports are an amateur enterprise when coaches and schools are racking in cash. Meanwhile assistants remain the fall guys in a scandal that makes everyone look bad.