The college basketball season opens in about a month, but the sport is embarrassing itself with regularity these days.
Last month 10 people, including four assistant coaches from such major universities as Southern California, Arizona, Oklahoma State and Auburn, were indicted in the first public salvo of a continuing federal investigation of bribery and corruption in recruiting.
While nobody from the University of Louisville was indicted, the document contained enough detail about that school that the university dismissed Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino. Pitino (father of the University of Minnesota's coach, Richard Pitino) had survived a pair of sex scandals, but he couldn't hang on to his job this time.
The expectation around the sport is that there will be more indictments, more charges, more big-name schools embarrassed, more big-name coaches suddenly unemployable.
The September indictments, and the ones expected to follow, highlight the hypocrisy of "amateur" sports so beloved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. There's money to be had for everyone except the players.
They, say the NCAA, benefit from the college education they get in return for their athletic exploits.
That position lost considerable validity last week when the University of North Carolina escaped NCAA sanctions for rampant academic fraud with a unique defense: We have no academic standards to enforce.
Basketball and football players at UNC were for at least 18 years funneled to no-show "courses" that never met and involved "research papers" that were "graded" by a department secretary who barely glanced at the work. UNC spent $18 million to defend this and to sully the reputations of faculty who objected — and to protect the three basketball national championships won under Roy Williams.
North Carolina is supposedly one of the better public universities in the nation. But its eagerness to subvert its academic standards for athletic success is appalling. At least when the University of Minnesota's academic fraud came to light some 17 years ago Minnesota had the good sense to be ashamed.
At the end of all this is a harsh reality: The NCAA, as an enforcer of its own rules, is useless. The big-name schools don't want the rules enforced. They profit hugely from slipping a little illicit money to the athletes and ignoring the academics.
There is nothing there for the rest of us to cheer about.
Mankato (Minnesota) Free Press, Oct. 19.