Michigan State coach Tom Izzo calls college hoops scandal “disappointing” and “sad” on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017 in his first news conference of the season.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
EAST LANSING – Tom Izzo expressed his dismay Friday about the FBI probe into his sport.
On Saturday, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon took her turn dissecting the growing legal problems surrounding college basketball.
“I think it shows the power of the FBI to subpoena records, get closed subpoenas for records when nobody knows that they’re doing it, which is part of their portfolio. And the weakness of the NCAA has always been that they don’t have access in that way,” Simon said on MSU’s pregame show on WVFN 730-AM in Lansing. “I think from my perspective, it’s ugly, as Tom said. It undercuts the good people in the sport, because it makes everybody want to look at somebody differently as a result of this. I think it will continue to have revelations as weeks go on, and we just have try to do the right thing by us.”
The FBI revealed the early findings of its ongoing, two-year investigation and issued arrest warrants Tuesday for charges that include bribery, wire fraud, corruption and illegally funneling money to prospects and their families through shoe companies.
Among those ensnared in the FBI investigation are four assistant coaches at Division I schools, one-time MSU recruit in Louisville’s Brian Bowen, a number of representatives from major shoe companies and financial advisers, including Saginaw native Christian Dawkins. It also appears to have cost Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino and his Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich their jobs.
Izzo, himself a Basketball Hall of Fame coach, said the scandal among his peers was both “disappointing” and “sad” while calling it a “black eye” for the coaching profession.
“If this reels us back and makes us relook at some things and figure out what our summers are like and how we can get things better for both the players and coaches and everyone else, then there’s a benefit for us,” Izzo said Friday. “I wouldn’t say it’s great because of the negativeness of it.
“But we all learn from something that’s hit home, and this has hit home.”
His boss, Simon, agreed.
“We can only do what’s right for Michigan State,” Simon said. “The idea that because somebody else cheats that (it) gives you license to cheat, you shouldn’t teach that to an 8-year old. You shouldn’t teach that to an 8-year old.
“And it’s not that we’re perfect, because we’re not. And it’s not that things can’t happen, because they may well happen. But we have to try to do what’s right. And if somebody else gets caught, or they get let off, it’s not a reason for us to reassess what our boundary conditions are. And I think Tom has tried over the years to do that very effectively.”
A recent poll of about 100 coaches about who are the cleanest of their peers, done by CBSSports.com, ranked Izzo as tied for sixth. Michigan’s John Beilein was first.
A Free Press inquiry found MSU was warned about a minor NCAA violation last year due to two 2015 FaceTime calls between alum Draymond Green and then-recruit Miles Bridges. However, the NCAA determined neither Izzo nor the Spartans’ coaching staff knew about the video calls.
But that slight, inadvertent NCAA rules infraction is neither illegal nor even remotely close to what is happening elsewhere.
“We’re going to have a slip because none of this is perfect. People make mistakes,” Simon said. “But the attitude is what you have to worry about. I think this team that Tom has put together is, obviously with Miles a team that’s very, very strong. But he’s an MSU-kind of kid, which is why he stayed. And he’s built around him this enormous sense of caring.
“And it’s like Draymond said when I saw him in Detroit, ‘Once you step off this campus, whatever your age, and you go to the NBA, it’s simply a business.’ And so you need to be very careful about that step, because you can’t go back. And there are some programs in college who treat it like a business as well.”
Some Simon’s other thoughts on the issue:
* ON THE NCAA: “I think the question is, is the NCAA a policing agency? I think that’s probably an overstep. I also think that – I don’t know the answer to this to the extent to which they collaborated or cooperated and provided information to the FBI that may have assisted them in the investigation. So I think the handoff will now be to the NCAA to figure out what they’re going to do with all of these people.”
* ON THE AGENTS AND ADVISERS: “You always have to worry about intermediaries who stand between you and kids. And some of what the NCAA has done, that Tom has not been happy with, is to limit access of people and coaches, which created a void for a lot of intermediaries to fill. We may be seeing the underside of that consequence.”
* ON AAU BASKETBALL: “I think the other thing is that AAU sports, these non-regulated in some ways sports, have become more and more important for a student to get, in their view, an offer from a major university. I know that there are really good AAU coaches, but they’ve become really important. So those teams have to be supported in some way.”
* ON HOW TO DEAL WITH CHEATING AND ILLEGAL ACTIVITY: “We got to find some regulations to look at the crud, and we have to continue to celebrate the good things. And we have to also make it OK when somebody has an inkling that something is wrong to say it to somebody. And people feel like they have to have a lot of proof in order to go after anybody. So what happens then is it doesn’t feel right and it doesn’t smell right, but you don’t really know. So right now, people are very reluctant to say, ‘This is something we should look at.’ It’s used as negative recruiting to coaches, to institutions who do that, because of this juggernaut that certain programs that are AAU-like programs have in encouraging students to find their passion.”
* ON SHOE COMPANIES’ ROLE: “You talk about the shoe companies, and it’ll be really interesting to see because the people that have now been identified are again intermediaries. And so thes question would be, if you want the shoe companies out for support of people to play basketball at a higher level, because they’re the primary source of revenue for kids who have no shoes. So it’s easy for us to say , ‘Look, you can buy your kid a fancy pair of tennis shoes to play a game over the summer’ – there are lots and lots of people who don’t have that opportunity. And so, how did it sort of slide downhill from doing good and supporting a lot of kids who got to play basketball, some of whom because of their AAU experience are these teams in other leagues and other alphabet, got a chance for a better life, got an adult figure in their lives, got to college, may have stayed off the streets and out of trouble. There’s a lot of that stuff that’s very positive about those experiences for young people, particularly young men of color in cities. So how do you take that and the good, and how do you support that?”
Contact Chris Solari: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Download our Spartans Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!