8itorial: Is racism at the heart of NCAA accusations?

8itorials, Opinion

No one’s ever going to accuse me of being “woke”. I don’t look for conspiracies where there’s a logical explanation for something. I take most things at face value and remove emotion from most debates I find myself involved with. The only reason I’m including this disclaimer at all is because I don’t have any hard evidence to back up my perception, and I wish I did because I know this will draw every reaction in the book from dismissive eye-rolls to defensive backlash to “Dude, you’re just now realizing this?” But based on a series of back-to-back-to-back-to-back observations, it’s becoming clear to me …

At heart of all of these NCAA allegations and scandals, recruiting and otherwise, is about a thousand different levels of racism.

Race is definitely not a secret issue in NCAA basketball, nor is the decline in diversity among head coaches in Division I basketball. In 2005, 23 of 70 (33%) of power conference programs employed a black head coach, which is hugely disproportionate to the 70+% of power conference athletes who are black. Even worse, while the number of power conference programs increased to 75 in 2017, the number of black coaches decreased to 13 (17%). In the ACC, only NC State, Florida State and Wake Forest employ a black head coach. None of this is hidden. These are facts that aren’t open to interpretation.

Now when you start asking why, then it becomes a bit tricky. I’ll take a stab at it, though. Black coaches don’t get hired because they are seen as “risky” because white coaches don’t want to compete against black coaches for jobs, and ultimately for recruits. That’s accomplished by handing out unfavorable reviews within the good-old-boy network, which becomes validated by public, selective scandal and allegation.

Full disclosure, that perception stems from my own personal prejudice that it is easier for people to relate to other people who share things in common, whether it’s something as personal as the kind of movies you like, or something as superficial as ethnicity or nationality. True or not, I know I’m not the only one who has experienced something like feeling an immediate connection with a stranger wearing a Durham Bulls hat when we’re in some other city, and I think it’s the driving force that makes white coaches afraid to compete against black coaches when, as mentioned, over 70% of power conference talent isn’t white.

Just today, a story broke that the NCAA is investigating Kevin Ollie at UConn for potential recruiting violations. Kevin Ollie is 124-70 in his 6th season at UConn. He won 32 games his first season, won half as many last year, and is barely keeping his team above .500 this season. There is little chance that he’ll keep his job, for competitive reasons, much longer. He’s also black, which makes this recruiting investigation suspect. At least we should think it’s suspect.

Earlier this season when the FBI announced the existence of a comprehensive operation to investigate fraud in college basketball, four coaches were charged and subsequently fired. All four were black. Only one white coach, Louisville’s Rick Pitino, lost their job following the announcement of charges, and his removal was ultimately tied to his failure to keep scandal out of his program. Scandals like the use of strippers and escorts to lure recruits to Louisville, which was spearheaded by assistant coach Andre McGee … who is black.

“But what it’s just black coaches who are doing this stuff?”


If we’ve learned anything from the FBI investigation, it’s that very little, if anything, is pure when it comes to college basketball recruiting. Not all of what goes on warrants a federal charge, constitutes an NCAA violation, or is even truly “cheating.” But we all know that nothing is pure. Even at your favorite school, sorry to burst your bubble.

When one of those 13 power conference black head coaches ever steps out of line, there’s a lengthy line of people right there just dying to roll on them, which is an experience far different than what the 62 white coaches see. It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove. And when it comes to black coaches, there’s either a more enthusiastic effort to prove it, or a more enthusiastic effort to just “know it”.

That’s why we only really ever see black coaches TRULY implicated in recruiting scandals. And it’s that perception that makes schools hesitant to hire black coaches when they have the opportunity to do so. And racism makes the whole thing go because so many are eager to believe that, yes, black coaches ARE the only ones flying dangerously close to the sun when it comes to the rulebook.

Here’s how it works.

This past week, noted racists Tate Frazier and Mark Titus discussed on “One Shining Podcast” that Duke, and specifically assistant coach Jeff Capel, were “cheating their asses off” in basketball recruiting. Well, I don’t know if they’re really racist or not (I’m fairly certain that they aren’t), but I have as much evidence of them being racists as they do of Jeff Capel paying Zion Williamson to commit to Duke. Provocative comments by provocative personalities, and nothing more. But watch what happens next:

The “not-so-secret secret”, and what the hosts of Jayhawk talk are referring to, is that Duke’s “shift” in recruiting came from the addition of Jeff Capel to the basketball staff, bringing with him his history of paying recruits. After all, Capel was fired from Oklahoma for his involvement in bringing NCAA violations to the Sooners. Only, he wasn’t.

Capel was fired from Oklahoma when his team severely underachieved with a bevy of talented players, and struggled even more when those players left the program. And Oklahoma’s sanctions stemmed from a recruit taking $3000 from a Florida financial advisor to pay off an outstanding balance to his high school so that his transcript could be released for acceptance into college. Oklahoma reported that an assistant coach was aware of the payment but did not report it to the NCAA in a timely manner, and the player did not cooperate with the NCAA investigation. Capel was not implicated in the NCAA investigation, and the severity of the punishment was from Oklahoma’s status as a repeat offender from previous violations under Kelvin Sampson … also a black coach.

Frazier and Titus HAD to discuss Duke’s class because it’s a big story, and because of the polarizing nature of Duke basketball (especially with Frazier being a UNC fan), a skeptical take was the obvious take. None of that is surprising, and none of it is a problem.

But what IS a problem is how fans react to it. Because of Capel’s race, not only was he an easy target for Frazier and Titus, the claim and the attachment to his “history” at Oklahoma was able to go completely unchecked by those like the hosts of the (truly entertaining) Jayhawk Talk Podcast, and probably most of you reading this editorial. The “not-so-secret secret” mentioned in the above tweet is able to live without being questioned because so many are so eager to see a successful black basketball coach and think “he’s successful because he’s cheating.”

Sure, it’s funny, harmless rivalry stuff when it comes to the Duke basketball program, but how harmless is it when an up-and-coming black coach goes to interview for a job opening?

13 out of 75 isn’t normal, and it’s not an accident. And ultimately it all stems from the perception of the athletes they coach, or more accurately, the race of 70% of the athletes they coach. Last night I was reading a thread on a message board lamenting the “one and done” culture in college basketball these days. When one poster presented the financial benefits that would be silly to turn down, another replied that you can’t put a price on education, and that an education “is the only way to truly get out of the ghetto.”

These types of comments can’t go unchecked in any forum. As fans, media, and fans within media, we have to start being more aware of the impact of these types of comments and the way we report stories. For example, Kevin Ollie very may well have committed a recruiting violation. Well, how did it come to light? What’s the real story behind the trigger to that investigation?

There’s no chance that 17% of power conference coaches are responsible for 90% of the scandals. And there’s no reason why we should be comfortable taking that at face value. And certainly no reason to not only accept, but to continue to perpetuate the perception of black coaches with misinformation and prejudice.

And kudos to schools like NC State, Florida State and Wake Forest for not believing it.