OPINION: Enjoy college basketball while you can
FBI investigation, NCAA sanctions loom for many top teams heading into March Madness
Former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel 'Book' Richardson was arrested on corruption, fraud charges by the FBI on Sept. 26, in what is expected to be one of the largest scandals in collegiate sports history.
Fans of college basketball should enjoy the current season while they can, because the largest upset of the NCAA tournament may come in a few years when wins are stripped and legacies are destroyed.
That’s according to a report from Yahoo Sports, which claims that “every major conference, Hall of Fame coaches, a score of current top players and some of the nation’s most distinguished and respected programs” are all swept up in an FBI corruption scandal.
The federal investigation has already taken down several coaches across the country, including former University of Arizona assistant Book Richardson, and it appears that the first wave of arrests was just the tip of the iceberg.
The full list of coaches, players and programs caught up in the scandal won’t be revealed until the FBI has concluded its probe, but at least half of the top 16 teams that were projected to be in this year's NCAA National Championship tournament, according to the selection show projections a week ago on CBS, are said to be tainted in some way.
That means the possibility of the team that eventually wins the Big Dance having engaged in shady tactics to succeed is enormously high.
The NCAA will launch its own search for wrongdoing once the feds are finished, and if teams participated in paying players to come to a school, careers will end and winning titles will be rescinded.
Remember who won the B.C.S. National Championship in 2004? If you answered the University of Southern California, technically, you’re wrong.
USC was stripped of its title after an investigation determined the college broke the rules; Reggie Bush lost his Heisman Trophy, and an undefeated season was wiped from the books because of improper player payments.
A similar fate awaits the school that wins this year’s basketball tournament if misconduct is discovered, an extreme likelihood given that more than 50 programs, including elite universities, are implicated in the investigation.
Because of the undeniable fact it has already had one coach arrested, and subsequently fired, for allegedly taking bribes and paying players, the UA could very well see its season — and any post-season accomplishments — erased from the record books.
If Richardson is found to have significantly altered the course of the program through his actions, or if the skulduggery spreads higher or further within the athletic department, the Cats' season may one day only exist in the memories of fans.
If any current players are revealed to have taken money, their draft prospects could be affected, and the legacies of Hall of Fame coaches may be left in ruins when all the shoes drop.
By the time all the facts are known, the entire sport as we know it will be turned on its head. Once the smoke has cleared, the destruction wrought upon these dirty coaches, players and programs will be severe. The integrity of the game will be irrefutably damaged, perhaps forever.
So, bask in the excitement of big dunks, unruly cheerleaders and all the other ups and downs on the court while you still can.
Because once the full extent of corruption within NCAA basketball has been laid bare, the heartache on the hardwood may pale in comparison to the pain that is yet to come.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story included an incorrect cutline on the photo, stating that Book Richardson was on paid leave at the UA. The university placed Richardson on paid leave following his arrest, and terminated his contact on Jan. 11.
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