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Monday, September 13, 2010
An open letter to college coaches

By Eamonn Brennan

Dear College Basketball Coaches Of The World:

Hi. Rough offseason, huh? The NCAA is really cracking down on stuff, and it has to be making your jobs a bit more difficult. Managing phone calls is for administrative assistants, am I right? Ha! Right.

Anyway, I had a quick request, and I hope you guys would take a few minutes to hear me out. Thanks in advance.

Pearl
An anonymous panel of coaches says Bruce Pearl's recent transgressions are common in the NCAA.
So. This offseason, Dana O'Neil did an incredibly interesting piece on cheating in college basketball. The story surveyed 20 of you, granting you anonymity in exchange for your candor. And you didn't disappoint.

The consensus was depressing. Most of you think most other coaches are cheating -- or, better yet, you know they are -- but you can't prove it. And, if you could, you wouldn't snitch anyway; that's a one-way ticket to pariah status. College basketball coaching is a big fraternity, and telling on your frat brothers is pretty unchill. We get it.

Then, Friday, one of you had a bit of an issue with phone calls. (Then he lied about the phone calls, or about unregistered phones, and you know the NCAA doesn't like that.) In her original piece, O'Neil did ask coaches about impermissible phone calls, the NCAA folly that sank Kelvin Sampson at Indiana and appears to be part of the reason Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators and got himself in his current mess. You guys basically laughed at the phone issue, telling Dana that you thought the limit on phone calls was ridiculous in the first place (which is actually pretty reasonable, and something we'll talk about more down below):
"Everyone has caller ID; everyone has unlimited texting. If you don't want to talk to me, hit ignore. I hit ignore all the time.''

"I get a kick out of the phone calls. Who gets caught with that anymore? It's a joke. They're out there catching the guy with the one phone. How about the guy with two and three bat phones?''

"Who gets caught with that anymore?" Oof.

As we recently found out the unfortunate answer to that unfortunate question, CBS' Gary Parrish performed a similar survey today. Parrish asked 10 of you whether you had made impermissible phone calls in your careers. Answering anonymously, not a single one of you denied the practice. I have to admit: You guys caught me off guard here.
"Yes," answered the first coach on my list. "Any coach who tells you he hasn't is lying. We've all done it. You don't need to interview coaches to get that answer."

Turns out, that's true. All 10 coaches I spoke with acknowledged making impermissible phone calls. Some said they had done it a few times, others often. But nobody claimed innocence, and every one of them said they didn't know anybody who could.

I'm assuming all of you will be turning yourselves into the NCAA post-haste, right? Right.

For what it's worth, Parrish's coaches made the distinction between intentional cheating and gray-area mistakes. There's a difference, it seems, between 15 extra calls and 200. Fifteen could be an accident. A couple hundred is a pattern. There's also the matter of extra phones, which are pretty obviously an intentional violation, but also the sort of thing that's nearly impossible for the NCAA to monitor. It's basically an honor system that, according to coaches, you guys don't really seem worried about honoring.

I'm not sure if any of the coaches who talked to O'Neil or Parrish understand this, which is why I called you guys in here. (Is this an open letter or a conference call? Neither! It's a blog-post conceit that's rapidly wearing thin. So just go with it.)

What's most upsetting about all this isn't phone calls. Honestly, who cares? It's a questionable rule to begin with. If anyone can skillfully manage their digital communication devices, it's the modern-day teenager. You guys know that already, since you all spend about 20 hours a day calling 15-year-olds.

No, guys, what's most upsetting is the culture. Everybody cheats. Everybody knows it. Everybody admits it. No one does anything about it. "We're off the record? Then yeah, I cheat. But so does everyone else, and I don't want to lose out on recruits, so why would I stop?" This is not a very adult attitude. Maybe I'm the one who's naive, but I'm pretty sure that's the most childish attitude you could possibly take. You guys sound like third-graders. "Charlie looked at Steve's paper, so I did, too!" Pretty weak stuff, dudes.

When it comes to too many text messages, that's one thing. When it has to do with amateurism and agents, it's another. But it all fits into the same pattern, and that pattern -- especially when evinced by the kind of people who seek to mold lives through education and athletic competition; psst, I'm talking about you guys here -- remains horrifyingly depressing.

Most fans already know this, but it's always good to have a reminder. Which is why I'd like to offer a big thanks to you, the anonymous head coaches admitting to rules you've casually broken. You guys are always so informative when your names aren't next to the things you say. I can't wait to hear what you all come up with next. In the meantime, reporters and NCAA investigators will keep looking for dirt on you, you'll keep getting caught, and everyone will keep acting like they're surprised even though they're not.

Because apparently you all cheat, and that doesn't seem to bother any of you enough to say these sorts of things on the record. I'm not sure whether that bothers me. I imagine, if it was my job to talk about integrity to 12-year-old campers every summer, or to mold 18-year-old boys into 22-year-old men, it would. Just a thought.

Anyway, thanks for hearing me out. Keep up the good work, and I look forward to seeing you all this season, when real, actual basketball will make us forget we ever cared about any of this anyway. Good times.

Yours truly,

Disappointed (But Not Surprised) College Basketball Fans Everywhere