After the NCAA's Commission on College Basketball made its recommendations about cleaning up the sport, a question arose: Are coaches part of the problem or part of the solution?
This either/or has been on the mind of Jim Haney, the executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. In a video response to the Commission's recommendations, he acknowledged the tidal wave of negativity created by last fall's news of an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting.
"The integrity of our game (and) the reputation of our coaches and our coaching profession took a huge hit," Haney said.
The subsequent arrests of four coaches, he added, would lead critics to assume the worst of all coaches.
"That we lacked integrity," he said. "That we could not be trusted."
Not helping Haney's case was an NCAA announcement last week that a Division III soccer coach - a Division III soccer coach? - ran afoul of NCAA justice by having his father, who happened to be a booster of the program, co-sign a loan for an athlete. Subsequently, the athletics director violated the NCAA's ethical conduct rules when he denied that he had approved the loan arrangement, the D-III Committee on Infractions decided.
As for the FBI investigation, recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer of 247 Sports spoke plainly.
"The problem is not shoe companies," he said. "The problem is the college coaches. Where do you think the cheating starts? Why does the shoe company have an influence? Because the coaches will use them."
These same coaches want to be included in the decision-making about college basketball's future.
"Just as we were included as a problem in the sport, we needed to turn that around and be part of the solution," Haney said.
When the FBI investigation made headlines last fall, Haney made a statement about how coaches adhere "to the highest standards of lawful, ethical behavior."
This amused David Ridpath, the president of the reform-minded Drake Group.
"Well, I know Jim, OK?" he said at the time. "We've been acquainted over the years. Jim represents basketball coaches so (chuckles) it doesn't surprise me that he's going to say something like that."
Ridpath, who formerly worked in rules compliance, said last fall that the FBI's findings of corruption were an "open secret" in the world of college basketball recruiting.
"I probably won't buy it from too many coaches if they say that they've not been involved in this," he said.
Of course, Rick Pitino has become the face of the FBI investigation.
He lost his job as Louisville coach, as did U of L Athletics Director Tom Jurich in the wake of allegations of a six-figure payment to a prospect's family. That the FBI, and not the NCAA, investigated made a critical difference, said Ridpath, who all but questions the NCAA's ability to reform college basketball.
"If this was the NCAA looking at this ... Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino would be able to easily sidestep that," Ridpath said. "You're really able to protect yourself in an NCAA investigation if you have good lawyers and the institution wants to protect you. You have a pretty good level of insulation. In this case, (Pitino) really didn't have any."
The Drake Group's mission is to "defend academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports."
Ridpath can imagine coaches helping in that mission.
"We certainly think coaches can be part of reform, at least some of them," he said in an email last week. "But it has to be predicated on what's best for the athlete and academics, first and foremost. And I doubt many coaches want to go down that road."
Former University of Kentucky president David Roselle recalled two coaches who set self interest aside.
It was 1989. UK basketball faced the likelihood of NCAA sanctions for multiple rules violations. It was the perfect chance to step on a weakened competitor. Then Indiana coach Bob Knight called Roselle. After complimenting the UK president for having the courage to root out corruption in the basketball program, Knight turned to the likely ban on television appearances that Kentucky faced. Such a ban would jeopardize Kentucky's place in the Big Four, a made-for-TV doubleheader also featuring Indiana, Louisville and Notre Dame.
Television interests pressured Knight to agree to drop Kentucky from the event. TV already had a replacement for UK in mind: LSU and its heralded freshman, Shaquille O'Neal. Knight refused. "What you're doing with that program, there's no way I would do that," Roselle recalled Knight saying.
Kentucky remained in the high-profile Big Four.
Dean Smith, then the North Carolina coach, called a day or two later to say he, too, admired the clean-up effort underway at UK.
"He said, 'It needs to be saved,' " Roselle recalled.
Of course, the "it" was Kentucky basketball.
As a way for North Carolina to help, Smith proposed the schools renew their on-again, off-again series. Roselle agreed.
"I came through the Kentucky thing with more - not less, but more - respect for the big-time coaches than I had going into the thing," Roselle said.
As Roselle saw it, neither win-at-any-cost self-interest nor exploitation of a fallen competitor guided Knight and Smith.
"They had the big picture vision of basketball," Roselle said. "Sure, they want to win. But that wasn't why they called. They called me because I was trying to save a bit of the history of their sport."
When asked how widespread he believed this kind of altruism was among coaches nowadays, Roselle paused before answering.
"I don't know," he said in a subdued tone. "Not enough, I would say. But some, for sure."
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