Two questions in our little corner of the world in the wake of Friday’s bombshell Yahoo! Sports report alleging widespread payments to college basketball players from sports agents:
1. Has college basketball just struck a Titanic-sized iceberg?
2. Will LSU’s basketball program be in the lifeboat or in the water, clinging to a piece of driftwood with Kate Winslet and Leo DiCaprio?
Just as interest and hope in LSU basketball is (pardon the pun) rebounding, news comes that implicates former Tigers players Tim Quarterman and Jarrell Martin as having taken money/loans from targeted NBA sports agent Andy Miller and his shady sidekick Christian Dawkins.
It could be worse. No current LSU players were named in the report, something that programs like Alabama (Collin Sexton), Kentucky (Kevin Knox) and Michigan State (Miles Bridges) can not say.
But collectively it is hardly great news for Tigers basketball, especially when ESPN was splashing LSU’s logo on its screen along with those of the other schools that were implicated as it took a deep dive into the Yahoo! Sports report. Quarterman allegedly got $16,000 during his junior season at LSU two years ago. This all comes in the wake of former LSU guard Antonio Blakeney being named in the Louisville recruiting sex scandal, the one that helped end Rick Pitino’s coaching career in disgrace. Collectively for LSU basketball, it isn’t a good look.
One potential silver lining for LSU: Martin allegedly got over $52,000 in loans, as shown by a photo of a balance sheet accompanying the report. But Martin was not mentioned in the Yahoo! Sports story. Considering that he got so much more than Quarterman, who was mentioned, it seems logical that Martin did not get his money until after he turned pro right after the 2014-15 season.
But for LSU and everyone in college basketball, the positives are thin. Who can say what will be next? As we see from the headlines every day, federal investigations move like, well, icebergs. And there is an ominous sense, just like seeing the fin of the giant shark in “Jaws” jutting out of the water, that there is plenty lurking beneath the surface that we simply do not know.
One question that doesn't have an apparent answer from the initial reporting: Was any money funneled to the players from the schools they signed with or were being recruited by through the agents? If that can be proven, the result could be catastrophic for the programs that are implicated.
This could overwhelm the sport and the NCAA’s notably fickle enforcement division. If bluebloods like Duke and North Carolina and Michigan State are found to be guilty, does that mean schools like East Carolina and Western Michigan need to start sweating about getting nailed with five-year probation on their behalf? That’s a joke, of course, but if this is an unprecedented situation, the NCAA penalties could also be unprecedented in their scope and spread.
A more pressing question, especially for teams like LSU this year trying to scramble for their spot on the March Madness bubble: What could all this mean for teams in this year’s tournament field? Selection Sunday is in a little more than two weeks. It seems impossible that there will be time for the NCAA to undergo enough of a vetting process to bar teams from postseason play.
But what if schools start benching players who have or could be implicated for fear they could wind up having to vacate wins and NCAA appearances anyway? How would that play with the NCAA selection committee? Would they regard such situations as injuries or simply give everyone a pass because of the freshness and weight of the allegations?
Or, as local radio pundit Charles Hanagriff sarcastically wondered aloud Friday, will Middle Tennessee wind up being a regional two seed?
Again, these situations tend to move exceptionally slowly by their very nature. Chances are, the face of this year’s NCAA tournament won’t look appreciably different from what it has been in the recent past.
But check back with me next year, after we know how big a hit college basketball took from this iceberg.