“The Scheme” Reveals Backdoor Corruption in College Basketball

“The Scheme” Reveals Backdoor Corruption in College Basketball

What college basketball fans see on the court is the true, untarnished beauty of the college basketball product. The energized atmosphere. The rich fanfare. The sweat. The ball movement. The hustle. Players fighting for their teammates, their school, their coaches, and themselves. But what goes on off the court, the bribery, the exploitation, the slimy under-the-table deals, lurks in the shadows, never to be seen. 

The Shady Underbelly of College Basketball 

I recently watched “The Scheme,” a well-executed documentary that tears at the heart of the gross web of dishonesty that permeates through the sport and expertly belittles the NCAA’s concept of amateurism. It follows the story of Christian Dawkins, a sports agent who was convicted in October 2018 and April 2019 for bribing college basketball players, their families, and coaches, as part of the FBI’s investigation into corruption within the sport. 

The FBI led a sting operation into Dawkins’ recruiting processes. Jeff DeAngelo and Jill Bailey, undercover FBI agents, encouraged Dawkins to make payments to assistant college coaches, something Dawkins wanted to avoid entirely. Dawkins began his one-year prison sentence for the bribery charges in late February.  

Christian Dawkins in “The Scheme” / HBO

Coaching Corruption

It has been known for a long time that the college basketball recruiting process teeters on the edge of being a high-functioning, mafia-like operation. College basketball is a big business. Money powers it, and it ultimately defines the sport. 

The documentary comically opens with former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and former LSU head coach Will Wade denying that they ever had any communication with Dawkins. 

Dawkins makes it clear throughout “The Scheme” that he did not see a purpose in making payments to college coaches, as doing so would threaten the relationships he cultivated with players. Former Arizona head coach Sean Miller claims he barely knew Dawkins, but FBI audio recordings reveal Miller yelling obscenities about Dawkins and railing against the recruiting process. 

In the recordings, Wade and Miller sounded like they needed Dawkins, that they were perfectly fine in engaging in reckless and greedy behavior, treating players as pawns for profit. Wade said, “I was thinking last night on this Smart thing. I went to him with a strong-ass offer about a month ago.” 

Wade was presumably talking about former LSU guard Javonte Smart. Miller discusses with Dawkins the potential market price for Naz Reid. Listening to the audio recordings was the most memorable moment from the documentary. Seeing the lengths Wade and Miller went to in their press conferences to deny their attachment to Dawkins and safeguard their reputations was astonishing. 

Yes, it is bad that Miller and Wade lied through their faces about their connections to Dawkins, but the true criminals, the true sources of corruption, lie within universities, university presidents, and the NCAA. The NCAA and universities display a stunning victimhood while cash continues to flow in. Players take the fall, and their reputations are harmed.

Dawkins initially avoided the NCAA and the Department of Justice because there is no federal law preventing the paying of players. 

A Failing System

The college basketball recruiting system almost ensures rule-breaking. Superstar recruits are overly exploited. Athletic directors, coaches, and boosters understand the value and attraction that big-time players can provide for a university. A recruit then becomes submerged in the murky profit-making fraudulence that has wrapped itself around the sport.  

The NCAA’s amateurism model is suffering. Its restrictive regulation of college athletes will crack eventually. Guided by this spirit of amateurism, the NCAA has been able to withhold billions of dollars generated by athletic programs and keep it for themselves. If the NCAA wants to truly fulfill its obligations to protect the interests of the athletes first and foremost, it has to recognize that athletes are its foundation. 

The NCAA and athletic programs are infatuated with profit and power, and the documentary only reinforces this. Universities need to be more transparent in their financial reporting and lessen restrictions on ways college athletes can make money. The NCAA’s leadership seems out of touch with the evolving equitable nature of college sports.  

If you are a college basketball fan and care abundantly about the financial treatment of college athletes, “The Scheme” is necessary viewing.

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