Tuesday’s bombshell proves college players have value, and now amateurism must end

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Brian Bowen was not a one-and-done player.

He ranks 19th in 247’s composite top 100 in the Class of 2017. He doesn’t show up on Jonathan Givony’s latest 2018 Mock Draft for ESPN. He’s not Marvin Bagley III. He’s not Michael Porter Jr. He’s not Deandre Ayton or Andrew Wiggins or LeBron James. He’s not on that level.

And Adidas thought that he was worth the $100,000 that it would cost to get him on Louisville’s roster.

Adidas had just invested $160 million into a contract with Louisville. They need Louisville to be good, and to protect that investment, they were willing to throw another hundred grand at a player that would help the Cardinals win games.

Nassir Little, who is thought to be Player-12 in the FBI complaints that were released on Tuesday, was in the middle of a bidding war between Miami and Arizona. Miami, who is sponsored by Adidas, wanted the shoe company to fund $150,000 to the family of the player to get him onto the Coral Gables campus, according to the complaints, but the slush fund that Adidas executive Jim Gatto uses to make those points was running low. He wanted to get the number down to $100,000 or $125,000, a problem considering a “rival apparel company” had already made an offer of $150,000 to get the player to Arizona.

Might the family be willing to wait until 2018, when money won’t be so tight? No, because, according to another Adidas executive, Merl Code, the family may be looking for $200,000 by then.

The four coaches that were arrested got caught accepting bribes from financial advisors and a runner for an agent in exchange for influence on where the future pros on their roster will eventually become clients. The future earning potential of the best in the college ranks is so great that it didn’t seem out of the ordinary for, say, Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person to be paid $91,500 to steer a pair of borderline first round picks to a financial advisor that was working with the FBI.

None of this is out of the norm.

No coach in the country thought that what they were doing was a federal crime. No one expected the FBI to start arresting shoe company executives for operating their business as usual. This is rampant in the college ranks for the simple fact that it’s how business has to get done.

I say all that to say this: The only way to truly eliminate the corruption in college basketball is to legalize the corruption.

Get rid of amateurism. Allow the athletes to profit off of their name and their image and their likeness. Let them sign with an agent. Let them be sponsored by the shoe companies. Let them get paid to sign autographs or have a local restaurant put their face on a billboard. Let a booster use the star point guard to help him sell cars.

It is the only possible way to save the sport of college basketball from collapsing in on itself.

Given what I mentioned earlier, there is no logical way to deny that college basketball players have value that goes beyond the jersey on their back. They have value to the shoe companies because the shoe companies want the programs they quite literally have billions of dollars invested in to be successful, and that is before you consider the potentially massive future profits if a player comes from nowhere to be the next Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook.

They have value to the head coaches who makes millions of dollars when the players that they have are good enough to help them win games. Why are “recruiters” so important to a coaching staff? Because if you can’t get players, you don’t win titles, and winning titles is what gets you a contract extension, a job in a bigger league, an extra zero on your contract.

They have value to agents and financial advisors because even a small percentage of their future earnings is massive. If all it took was, say, $10,000 a month for two or three years to ensure that you got 4 percent of every dollar that James Harden earns in his career, you do everything you can to find that $10,000 a month.

Denying this exists flies in the face of simple economic principles like supply and demand or capitalism, or the simple fact that humans are greedy and they like money. The reason this black market exists is because of the NCAA’s arcane amateurism rules.

As our Travis Hines put it, when you outlaw something, you create outlaws.

At it’s core, what’s happening here really is simple: Adidas is sponsoring Bowen. Nike and Adidas are competing over whether or not they can sponsor Little. Agents and financial advisors are funneling money to coaches as a go-between to recruit college athletes because they themselves are not actually allowed to recruit the college athletes.

Want to make that go away?

Allow kids like Bowen – whose $100,000 sponsorship from Adidas is peanuts compared to some of the numbers throw around with bigger prospects – to sign with agents. Allow them to hire professionals whose entire purpose in life is to help athletes navigate the always-expanding business side of sports. Allow those agents to negotiate those sponsorship deals while the player is still in college.

That’s not going to totally eliminate the seedy side of recruiting by agents, but nothing ever is, not when there is that much money at stake. And it’s not going to rid the world of middlemen trying to profit off of these kids. It will make some things uncomfortable in a locker room when a star is getting paid six or seven figures and a scrub is asking him to pay for dinner.

But at least the kids will be getting what they’re worth.

And something as simple as a sponsorship won’t ruin the next Brian Bowen’s college experience and, potentially, his basketball career.

What Tuesday exposed is the market at work.

The NCAA needs to finally stop trying to fight it, because they’re never going to win.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.