Just when it looked like the Colorado Buffaloes were all but eliminated from the NCAA Tournament bubble, they suddenly have hope.
That hope comes courtesy of the FBI, who have been investigating the top college basketball programs all season. These investigations have been centered on various forms of corruption, mainly bribery, wire fraud, and illegally paying athletes. None of this is new for college basketball of course, but the NCAA doesn’t exactly like to self-police (unless it’s something ridiculous, like what happened at Louisville), so the FBI stepped in to presumably stop this madness.
The first the sign of basketball apocalypse was in September when the FBI arrested four assistant coaches, one on the USC staff and another on Arizona. Drama stemming from that initial purge has loomed all season long in college basketball and these investigations have only revealed more and more NCAA violations, especially at top programs who have been competing for elite prospects over the years.
On Friday, Mark Schlabach of ESPN reported perhaps the most significant news yet: Sean Miller was directly involved in paying players at Arizona. When assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was arrested for illegally funneling AAU players to Arizona, Miller was immediately implicated, but he maintained that he had nothing to do with that scandal and that Richardson had acted on his own. But FBI wire taps found that Miller discussed paying $100,000 to Deandre Ayton to ensure he would sign with Arizona. There has been talk that Miller may have to resign or be suspended, and that Arizona may choose to self-punish themselves, perhaps by pulling out of postseason play.
When #CUBuffs beat Arizona at home in Jan., Sean Miller: "You always want your team to play for you as the coach and our guys, they really struggled playing for me, they really do." This is what all leaders face when there's inequality of pay among workforce— Pat Rooney (@prooney07) February 24, 2018
Ayton and all these other athletes absolutely deserve to be paid for their labor, but payment is illegal under NCAA rules and will likely spell doom for a significant amount of programs. USC, Utah and Washington — all implicated through De’Anthony Melton, Chimezie Metu, Kyle Kuzma and Markelle Fultz, respectively — could do the same if the pressure continues to mount. And that’s just in the Pac-12. Other programs that could be in serious trouble, per ESPN’s report, are Michigan State (Miles Bridges), Kentucky (Kevin Knox), Alabama (Collin Sexton), Texas (Eric Davis), North Carolina, Duke (Wendell Carter) and Kansas (Billy Preston).
Just looking at the top programs — not even the mid-level teams like Oklahoma State or NC State — this investigation has the potential to alter the college basketball landscape as soon as this March. If there were a number of teams that were ruled ineligible for the postseason due to these violations, the NCAA Tournament would see quite the shakeup. It would be possible to see March Madness with a collection of mediocre teams that would otherwise be fighting for an NIT spot. That could be great for the Buffs, who were recently on the tournament bubble but have since faltered down the stretch.
It’s also interesting to see Tad Boyle being vindicated for doing things by the rules and for calling out his rival coaches who don’t. It would help the Colorado program immensely if the FBI continues its investigations and recruits start to go towards clean programs. So for the most part, CU fans can sit back, relax and enjoy the purge, especially if Andy Enfield is next.