On a day usually reserved for coaches to deliver clunky podium jokes and injury updates, USC’s Andy Enfield and Arizona’s Sean Miller were confronted by a far more uncomfortable topic Thursday at Pac-12 Conference basketball media day.
Neither could escape a fusillade of questions related to the evolving college basketball corruption scandal. Enfield and Miller were largely evasive before departing a third-floor office room toward an uncertain future after two of their assistants were among 10 men recently charged with using bribes to direct players toward schools, shoe sponsors or agents.
Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott announced the creation of a conference task force “to address issues that are threatening the integrity of collegiate athletics and to protect our student-athletes.”
The task force is piggybacking on the NCAA’s recent formation of a Commission on College Basketball intended to examine the inner workings of the sport. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero was among five initial members of a group Scott said would eventually include as many as a dozen administrators, coaches and former college athletes.
“Our task force is going to look at the issues raised by the FBI investigation and do deep dives into the culture and issues around recruitment and men’s college basketball,” Scott said, “but, more broadly, at related issues and examine how some of the things we’ve seen in basketball could potentially impact other sports.”
Arizona and USC were picked first and second in a Pac-12 preseason media poll that seemed like a footnote given the furor over the FBI’s investigation. UCLA was picked third, the first time the Bruins were predicted to finish lower than the Trojans since the 2003-04 season.
Twenty of the 22 questions Enfield fielded were related to allegations that assistant Tony Bland solicited a $13,000 bribe to direct players to an agent and financial advisor; the others were about the Drew League and team chemistry. Enfield spoke for his allotment of 20 minutes without saying much. He reiterated that he learned of the allegations against Bland “when everybody else did” and couldn’t comment further beyond acknowledging the difficulty of the situation.
“When someone leaves your family, it’s very hard on all of us and very emotional and challenging,” Enfield said. “Everyone on our team and coaching staff handles those emotions differently. But at the same time, we’ve been able to rely on each other and talk about it. We’ve been there for each other. So we’re going to go on and try to prepare for the season.”
Dressed in a dark suit, cardinal tie and polished pewter wingtips, Enfield conceded that he expected the onslaught of questions related to the scandal given that he had been a coach for 23 years. He cracked a joke when asked, were Bland to be cleared, whether the associate head coach might rejoin USC’s staff.
“You guys are great; for the most part you’re great,” Enfield said, breaking into a smile, “but hopefully you have an understanding where I just can’t say things like that.”
Miller gave a lengthy preamble on his already having addressed allegations that assistant Emanuel Richardson accepted $20,000 in bribes and funneled some of that money to a high school recruit to attend Arizona. Miller then spent much of the next 20 minutes circling back to what he had already said.
Asked whether he had any knowledge of the alleged bribes: “I’m going to stand by the statement that I gave.”
Asked whether he had been questioned by the FBI: “I’m going to stand by the statement that I gave.”
Asked about a coach’s responsibility for knowing what’s going on within his program: “I’m going to stand by the statement that I gave.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said the NCAA required college coaches to sign declarations every year stating that they knew what their assistants were doing.
“The head coach is held responsible,” Krystkowiak said. “The old saying of, ‘I didn’t know what my assistants were doing’ [isn’t] going to apply anymore.”
Scott said the Pac-12 task force would strive to educate schools and the conference as a whole on potentially troublesome basketball issues; develop recommendations and best practices for improving procedures, policies and the environment surrounding college sports; develop specific proposals to be made to the NCAA; and address recruiting issues in other sports where the influence of third parties such as agents and apparel representatives is growing.
In addition to Guerrero, the task force will include former longtime Stanford and California coach Mike Montgomery; Utah athletic director Chris Hill; former Tennessee and NFL defensive back Charles Davis; and veteran college administrator Tom Jernstedt. The group is expected to report its initial findings by the end of the first quarter next year.
“We’re going to be part of developing specific and concrete reform measures nationally and within our own conference,” Scott said, “to ensure that the great benefits of collegiate athletics remains strong.”
Sweeping change appears to be necessary. Krystkowiak said he could recall “five, six, seven times off the top of my head” when a recruit, club coach or handler indicated he was seeking an inducement for the player to attend his school.
“You get some of those phone calls, random phone calls that, ‘Hey, it’s going to take this much,’ ” Krystkowiak said. “Sometimes it comes directly — ‘Is there anything else you guys can do to sweeten the pot?’ kind of deal. So I think it’s pretty obvious it’s prevalent.”
Krystkowiak compared the explosion of money in college basketball to a “gateway drug” that can become addictive.
“You’re introduced to alcohol,” he said, “and you have a little marijuana, and next thing you know you’re doing cocaine, and before you know it you’re on ‘Breaking Bad.’ ”
Krystkowiak said another college coach told him this summer that “if you’re not cheating, you’re cheating yourself.” Krystkowiak said he initially thought the colleague was kidding.