Last month, one of the biggest scandals in NCAA history broke. Federal prosecutors disclosed their discovery of a ring of corruption and money flow between families of college recruits, coaches of university teams, sports merchandise manufacturers and sports agents. Essentially, athletes’ families were paid money for their children to sign with certain schools that had apparel deals with Adidas, and coaches at these school in turn took bribes to steer these star players towards particular sports agents upon being drafted into the NBA.

This activity has turned out to be widespread: coaches from Auburn, Oklahoma State, Louisville, the University of Arizona and the University of Southern California have already been removed from their positions amid pressure following their implication in the quickly developing scandal.

The scope and scale of the investigation is completely unprecedented, and its impact is being felt throughout college basketball. However, a question remains at another level: What does this news say about the integrity of the student-athlete experience and amateurism on a broader scale?

As for the student-athlete experience, while this case is very high profile, it pertains only to a small fraction of players, compared to the thousands of college-level basketball players around the nation. A vast majority of student-athletes, even the ones at Division I schools, likely were never even offered a money to play at a particular school (past a scholarship). Therefore, the student-athlete experience remains, for the most part, unadulterated.

However, for the affected student-athletes at the aforementioned schools, this experience has been tainted. Collegiate sports, to many sports fans, have always been more special than their professional counterpart due to the athletes playing for their love and passion for the game and fans rather than for the sake of making money. (Remember the story lines about the 2011 NFL lockout which described the event as a contest between millionaires and billionaires?) Sure, many college players are motivated to perform by future money if they are drafted to a professional sports team, but many players know they will not play past college and yet still put in the immense work required for a student-athlete. Playing for passion rather than paychecks is a fundamental pillar of the student-athlete experience, but the few players and coaches who did accept money violated this very spirit of collegiate sports.

In analyzing and diagnosing the root of what happened, it is easy to blame players and their families for accepting money. After all, they well know that in four years’ time come draft day, they will be making more money than they know what to do with, we say. However, the players and their families are not wholly at fault. Many athletes and their families come from low-income backgrounds, and being offered tens of thousands of dollars to sign with a nationally branded school is just too good an opportunity to pass up. Blue chip athletes should not have to choose between abiding by ethical guidelines and providing needed money to their families. Instead, the NCAA should emphasize the importance of abiding by its framework to coaches and other companies, and then respond to infractions with rapid action. That is not to say that the students are not responsible for violating rules, but if coaches abide by them, then students will not be in a position to accept any money in the first place.   

It is sad to think that this money has not only created an unfair advantage in the NCAA to teams that are willing to bend or break the rules altogether, but also that ambassadors of collegiate sport have come to value money over the spirit of the game.

Athletes are not appreciated for their skill and hard work anymore; they are seen as a commodity. One sports agent is quoted as saying, “if we take care of everybody and everything is done, we control everything,” and “you can make millions off one kid”, courtesy of NBCNews.com. This notion of college sports and athletes simply being a money-generating commodity is sickening and needs to be overhauled.

That is particularly true when we consider that the student-athletes themselves do not even get to cash in on the business. Let us not forget when Georgia receiver A.J. Green was suspended for having the temerity to sell a game-used jersey. No matter how well they compete, student-athletes cannot get ahead. And that makes
options such as the one being investigated particularly appealing.

Looking ahead, the integrity of college basketball and sports in general is still intact; in fact, this incident will likely deter athletes and coaches alike from partaking in such behavior again in fear of being caught. Only time will tell what the implications of this debacle will be, but hopefully through it all, uncovering the dark underbelly of collegiate sports will provide a medium through which the very spirit of college sports can return to what it used to be: playing for the love of the game, not for the distractions around it.