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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As the college basketball world was rocked with scandal this summer, the ACC has been front and center in the NCAA and FBI investigations into allegations that agents, coaches and shoe companies conspired to bribe recruits.
Louisville has already fired athletic director Tom Jurich and head basketball coach Rick Pitino. Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga has admitted that he is named in the federal report.
During ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday, ACC commissioner John Swofford addressed the media for the first time since the charges were revealed, and he delivered pointed message about those that committed violations, the state of college basketball and what he feels the ACC’s role should be in correcting some of the current issues.
“The charges filed by the Federal Government are truly disturbing to me, to our schools, and all those connected to college athletics that are dedicated to following the rules,” Swofford said “There’s still much to learn, but if found to be true, the individuals involved need to be held accountable. This is a serious situation where college athletics shouldn’t be. We need to find what good can come from this being brought to light with facts, not rumors.
“Yes, obviously there are systemic issues that need to be addressed, including in my mind one and done and more liberal agent rules. But individual accountability cannot be ignored. So much ultimately comes down to individuals’ integrity and individuals’ commitment to playing by the rules, and there is no lack of understanding about what the rules are, and there’s certainly no lack of resources and commitment on campuses across the country in educating those involved as to what those rules are. Today’s world is not yesterday’s world. We need to recognize that in finding solutions to improving the system. But integrity is timeless. It was critical yesterday, it’s critical today, it’ll be critical in the future. And whatever the system is, integrity is critical to its success.”
Swofford went on to call Louisville’s firing of Jurich and Pitino “aggressive,” while declining to outright endorse the move. He did say that he did not regret inviting Louisville into the conference in 2014, calling that the “right move at the time,” but again voiced his displeasure at the current state of affairs.
But while Swofford is displeased with what has happened, he also sees an opportunity for this action to force the hand of college basketball, the NBA, AAU teams, agents and shoe companies to work together to create a better system.
“We have an opportunity, I think, for college basketball and really the entire system, and I think that’s how we have to look at it, an entire system, from high school and AAU to college ball to the NBA,” he said. “We’ve got an opportunity here because of a problem to try and fix something, and I don’t think we can afford to miss that opportunity.”
Swofford also foresees the ACC, which was a big part of the problems outlined in the FBI report, being a big part of the solution, as well. He announced the implementation of an ACC task force to assist the NCAA committee being led by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
“Our goal will be to see if we can offer solutions to the NCAA commission, or at least ideas for them to consider and process that may prove helpful to them as it completes its work,” Swofford said. “We’re visiting with a number of our own coaches one to one for input, and simply put, our league needs to do our part in finding solutions to this and offering ideas that can lead us to solutions.”
As far as specific solutions, Swofford wanted to wait to discuss things with his new panel, but he suggested less stringent rules regarding the contacting of agents, eliminating one-and-done players and allowing players to be drafted directly out of high school. Swofford noted that those, in particular, work in sports like baseball and that he doesn’t feel that one solution is necessarily the right one for every collegiate sport.
“We’ve got to modernize some things,” he said. “I’m not for throwing out the collegiate model by any stretch of the imagination, but I am for modernizing it to live in a way — to live in today’s world in a way that makes sense.”
The NCAA’s amateurism model is unique to the United States, and in a basketball landscape that is becoming increasingly international, that’s providing another challenge. Swofford didn’t suggest that the NBA adopt the international academy system, but does believe there are things that can be learned from it.
Louisville center Mahmoud Anas is from Cairo, Egypt. He said that he’s struggled to even explain to his friends and family the reasons that Pitino was fired and that Louisville is under investigation.
“I try to explain it to my parents,” Anas said. “I try to explain it to my friends. It’s just the concept itself of all the NCAA rules and how much you can violate it and you can even violate it without knowing is the one thing that people don’t understand overseas. There’s so many NCAA rules and there’s a lot of them that we don’t even know. We try our best to know all of them. It’s just the concept of that many rules is the one thing that they don’t understand very well.”
But Swofford was quick to eliminate that line of thinking as an excuse for those that have violated NCAA rules and potentially federal laws:
“There is no lack of understanding about what the rules are, and there’s certainly no lack of resources and commitment on campuses across the country in educating those involved as to what those rules are.”
That line seemed like a pointed shot at those that have brought disgrace to the conference. It will be interesting to see how far Swofford takes his crusade to repair the broken basketball model in the United States. The ACC is in a unique position to be a leader on that front, and Swofford seems motivated to make things happen.