The HBO documentary about the FBI investigation into college basketball portrays many bad guys. The most blatantly worst of the bad guys is LSU head coach, Will Wade.
For anyone interested in the future of college basketball, The Scheme is a must-watch. HBO describes it as a “no-holds-barred tale of Christian Dawkins.” It is hard to understand how the NCAA and major Division 1 basketball conferences can recover from what is portrayed in the documentary.
As many fans of college sports understand, there has been cheating for at least 100 years. The Eastern teams that later became the Ivy League were concerned about widespread rules-breaking. Trying to understand how corrupt the world of college basketball is today requires looking back to the 1980s. Back to Nike and the genius of Sonny Vaccaro.
There are many credible sources about the history of shoe companies and college basketball. In 2018, the author John Feinstein wrote about a 1988 story he did for Sports Illustrated. Trying to understand how Nike and Vaccaro held sway over what elite players went to which college program, Feinstein talked to DePaul’s head coach, Joey Meyer.
Meyer was unusually candid. He summed up the situation perfectly.
there are two kinds of college basketball coaches right now: those with Nike contracts and those who wish they had Nike contracts.
The only thing that has much changed since is Adidas and Under Armour have taken away some of Nike’s market share. Is there more cheating today? Or less? Who does it? Or, a better question, who doesn’t? I don’t have answers.
Something can still be learned from the FBI investigation into college basketball and the HBO documentary starring Christian Dawkins. ‘Starring’ is not a normal word for documentaries. The fact-driven stories ‘feature’ main characters. HBO, however, decided to make Dawkins its star.
He was, after all, the central figure in the saga that transpired from the FBI investigation. What the documentary shows about Dawkins is he is very smart. His smartness did not protect him from poor decisions and judgments.
He became the most-punished individual in the investigation. He was probably the least guilty of anything. There is plenty of guilt to pass around. The FBI earned some, as did the Justice Department out of the Southern District of New York (SDNY). No matter how well-intentioned the two entities were at the start, they failed in a task to clean up college basketball.
Other individuals were guilty, in varying degrees and with varying punishments. Dawkins got the stiffest sentences, though they are under appeal. At least one dishonorable character became a corroborating witness to save his skin. He walked away unscathed.
Dawkins, despite FBI pressure, would not make the same deal. SDNY wanted to nail coaches, one of whom was Rick Pitino. Dawkins refused to help, disdained a plea deal and went to court.
In all the sordid mess surrounding Christian Dawkins, he seems not guilt-less, but less guilty than other parties. More guilty is the NCAA, even if their failings are from omission, rather than commission. The NCAA Tournament is a massive money-maker for the NCAA. From a revenue standpoint, tarnishing that brand would not serve the NCAA well.
Even worse are the coaches. Dawkins’ wiretaps included his conversations with Arizona’s Sean Miller and LSU’s Will Wade. Miller was more careful in what he said to Dawkins, but it was clear the conversation was about money for players.
Will Wade was not careful. He was more than candid. He even boasted. Well-known is Wade’s boast he made a player (Javonte Smart) a “strong-ass offer.” During the HBO documentary, Wade is heard claiming he would offer a transfer player more than the NBA minimum salary.
How Louisiana State University can allow Wade to remain its coach points to the most guilt of all. The often-used line, “have you no shame” should be answered by LSU. Don’t bother asking Will Wade. He is clearly shameless.
What will the NCAA do next? There are reported ongoing investigations into the college basketball programs at North Carolina State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, USC and TCU. Other schools, including Arizona, LSU, Creighton, Louisville and Auburn are under review. Alabama basketball was not guiltless. An assistant was discovered to have offered money to Collin Sexton. The Alabama Athletic Department quickly reported it to the NCAA and the coach was fired.