SAN FRANCISCO — The dance around the biggest questions in college basketball — what are your thoughts on the FBI scandal, did you know players were being paid and was your program involved? — began in earnest at Pac-12 media basketball days Thursday.
Arizona’s Sean Miller and USC’s Andy Enfield would not answer numerous questions about the current FBI investigation that has implicated a handful of the most powerful basketball programs and their coaches in a pay-for-play scandal in which at least one major shoe company, Adidas, allegedly funneled money to top prospects. Miller and Enfield both had assistants arrested in the FBI sting that became public on Sept. 26. Those assistants, USC’s Tony Bland and Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson, were in court this week and released on bail.
“(The investigation) is ongoing, and … I just can’t comment on certain things that I don’t have knowledge of or I’m not allowed to comment on,” Enfield said, in the most familiar refrain of the day.
Colorado’s Tad Boyle, late in the day and in front of a dwindling number of reporters, was blunt about the issue: “Look, there’s a black market that’s been exposed, and it’s not going away,” Boyle said. “We’ve just gotta learn how to deal with it … there are a lot more questions right now than there are answers.”
Commissioner Larry Scott went almost 10 minutes in his opening remarks before discussing the scandal, then announced the formation of a Pac-12 task force to address, “the issues threatening integrity of collegiate athletics.”
The roster for the task force is still being finalized, but will feature UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, Utah athletic director Chris Hill, former Stanford and Cal coach Mike Montgomery, Fox NFL analyst Charles Davis and longtime NCAA and USA Basketball administrator Tom Jernstedt. Scott said there will be women named to the committee in the near future. Montgomery also will serve on the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball that NCAA president Mark Emmert announced Wednesday.
“It’s not that complex,” Montgomery told USA TODAY Sports. “Whether it be in business or politics or anything else: follow the money. The problem is, the amount of money that’s out there that people are making and kids are worth and contracts are being signed for, there’s gonna abuses. And it’s not just confined to college basketball or college sports.
“Kids have value — to agents, shoe companies, programs. They have value and they know that. And the people that are guiding them, not necessarily the people that should be guiding them, they know that. And there’s an expectation that there’s money out there for them.”
Miller addressed the elephant in the room immediately after he took the stage just before lunch, acknowledging that almost every reporter in the room had come to quiz him on the investigation and its aftermath. He also said he fully supported the task force, the FBI and anything “anybody can do to help make our game better.” Miller mentioned that “when you think of college basketball, you want to think of March Madness, you want to think of Final Fours …”
But he wasn’t asked about either of those things, and he wouldn’t play ball on any question even remotely related to Richardson’s arrest or the investigation, repeatedly saying “I’m going to stand by the statement that I gave.”
That statement, issued Oct. 3, read, “I was devastated to learn last week of the allegations made against Emanuel Richardson. I have expressed to both Dr. Robbins and our Athletic Director Dave Heeke that I fully support the University's efforts to fully investigate these allegations. As the head basketball coach at the University of Arizona, I recognize my responsibility is not only to establish a culture of success on the basketball court and in the classroom, but as important, to promote and reinforce a culture of compliance. To the best of my ability, I have worked to demonstrate this over the past 8 years and will continue to do so as we move forward.”
Miller also declined to answer questions about if he had been interviewed by the FBI, and if Arizona had considered indefinitely suspending any players who are implicated in the documents, as Louisville has done with star freshman Brian Bowen. Asked the same question about potential suspensions, Enfield said USC has “a full roster of players right now, and they’re all doing well, they’re healthy.”
Asked if he knew that Bland, the USC assistant, had accepted a $13,000 bribe to ultimately push players to sign with a particular financial adviser, Enfield said, “I found out when everybody else did, but other than that, I just can’t comment on the investigation. It’s ongoing. Tony Bland has been with us four and a half years. He’s part of our USC program and family. And we all love Tony. It’s very difficult on a personal level, it’s very difficult on a program level, because we all had great relationships with each other.”
Enfield was visibly uncomfortable as the line of questioning got more aggressive, his face turning redder and redder throughout the 15 minute Q&A session. At one point he was asked point blank, “How embarrassing is this for you? There’s a blemish on your as you come to media day; focus is on this and not on your team.” Enfield, obviously flustered, responded by bragging about the team’s collective GPA and “virtual perfect APR score.”
Questions about the actual basketball talent on rosters at Arizona and USC, the two teams expected to contend for the conference title, were virtually nonexistent.
Enfield and Miller were the main event Thursday, but almost every coach answered questions about the scandal. And the reality is, it will likely be the topic of conversation all season. “Oh, I hope not,” sighed Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, anxious to discuss his team.
“It’s like a lot of people say, you kind of knew things were taking place,” Krystkowiak said. “Whether or not it ever came to light in my lifetime, I wasn’t ever sure it was going to.”
On a tense day when basketball became the backseat topic, Krystkowiak and Montgomery provided some comedic relief. As Krystkowiak walked off stage, he spotted Montgomery, his former coach at Montana and went to give him a hug.
“Don’t tell any of these reporters how much I paid you to come to Montana,” deadpanned Montgomery, who recruited Krystkowiak to Missoula in the early 80s. “That cheeseburger cost us a lot of money!”
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