You can read this as cynicism or optimism, but after all we’ve learned in the past few days, I think we know how this Oregon basketball story is going to end.
It’s going to end with a big, fat nothing.
Wednesday, jurors in a college basketball corruption trial in New York City heard a recorded conversation between two men discussing an “astronomical” offer for recruit Brian Bowen to play for the Ducks. Thursday, Oregon released a statement standing behind Dana Altman and his program. And Friday, the coach stood in front of reporters and delivered an unequivocal denial.
“The claims that have been focused at our program are all false,” Altman said. “We do not pay players. We never have. We never will.”
And, the unspoken addendum: Can we get on with the season already?
The NCAA, an organization that knows something about collusion, seems to be greeting these revelations with a coordinated response. That response is basically a collective shrug.
That’s why you can read these allegations — $150,000 offered by Oklahoma State, $100,000 offered by Creighton, $50,000 offered by Arizona — and see schools going on as if nothing happened. UC Santa Barbara, which employs one of the coaches involved, made that pretty plain with the statement it issued.
“At this time,” the school said, “we are focused on and excited about the upcoming season.”
There was a moment of unintentional comedy Friday when a reporter asked Oregon forward Kenny Wooten if he'd been paying attention to the events in New York City. Wooten furrowed his brow and looked around in bewilderment.
"What's going on in New York?" Wooten said. "The game? The 2K (Classic)?"
Wooten seemed to be speaking for all of college basketball there. Whether it's Creighton, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma State or Oregon, everyone seems eager to get on with the games and leave this unpleasantness behind. Who has time to dwell on the depravity of the system when there are tickets to sell?
At some point, I assume someone will dredge through these allegations and hand out penalties. A coach will get suspended for a few games. Some recruits will be ruled ineligible, or some assistants will get fired. Then everyone will go on doing all the stuff they did before.
Schools can get away with this because, for the most part, the general public doesn’t care. Most fans don’t think it’s a big deal if players are getting paid under the table. For those who do care, it’s only because they’ve accepted the NCAA myth that amateurism is somehow a necessary condition of college sports.
Stop and think about the absurdity of what’s being argued right now in federal court. The U.S. government is trying to say these three defendants — Adidas executives Jim Gatto and Merl Code, and a small-time hustler named Christian Dawkins — committed a crime by conspiring to pay basketball recruits under the table.
Who’s being victimized here? The schools, whose prized recruits became damaged goods as soon as they were compromised by dirty money.
Rick Karcher, a professor at Eastern Michigan who specializes in sports law, wrote this in an email when I asked him about the case:
“Why does a conspiracy by one group to not pay players make a conspiracy by another group to pay players illegal?” he wondered. “Is it because one group’s conspiracy came into existence before the other group’s conspiracy?”
That’s a good question for NCAA president Mark Emmert, who’s been nowhere in the vicinity of the federal courthouse this week. If the NCAA truly wanted to confront what’s happening here, it might have to dismantle the entire system. It’s much easier to express the appropriate amount of consternation and quietly move on.
There’s something happening in America right now — not just in sports, but everywhere — where all us know we’re being lied to all the time, and there’s nothing we can do about it. That’s how it feels when you read these allegations, then listen to schools deny any part in it. Cheating exists, sure, but it’s always those other guys over there.
Testimony is scheduled to continue next week. It’s possible more evidence will emerge to substantiate the claims that Oregon tried to buy the services of Brian Bowen. But right now, all we have is this: a father with a foggy memory and the word of three accused criminals, set against the impassioned defenses of a university and a coach who took the Ducks to the Final Four.
Call me a cynic, but I think I know how this one ends.
Follow Austin on Twitter @austinmeekRG. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.