Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was asked at Big Ten media day about the shadow of an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball hovering over the season.
Asked about fans who may have lost faith in the sport, Izzo might as well have been asked more bluntly: Just how dirty is college basketball?
"Jud Heathcote, rest his soul, used to always tell me about the 10 percent rule," Izzo said, referring to his late predecessor at Michigan State. "There's going to be 10 percent problems in every profession, whether it be coaching, whether it be in business, whether it be writers. I guess you could go to policemen to priests nowadays — to everybody, there's a 10 percent. So I wouldn't paint the brush over college basketball or football or athletics."
At a recent meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, NCAA President Mark Emmert threw out another percentage.
He cited recent NCAA polling that revealed nearly 80 percent of fans believe "big universities put money ahead of their student-athletes" and that nearly 70 percent of big schools are part of the problem.
"I can't think of anything right now that 79 percent of Americans would agree on, but they agreed on that," Emmert said.
What's perception? What's reality?
Heading into this season, an ominous cloud hangs over the sport. Yes, there will be the annual stories of blue bloods and Cinderellas that captivate us every season, new teams filling these roles year after year to help maintain our interest. There will be players, such as Michigan State's Miles Bridges or Arizona's Allonzo Trier or freshman Michael Porter Jr. at Missouri, who dazzle us with their talent and potential.
For years, we've allowed the radiance of the game — especially when it comes to March — to blind us a bit. And fans didn't necessarily want to ruin the illusion by looking behind the curtain. After all, who wants Debbie Downer at the Final Four?
This year, we can't hide from the reality.
Not since Sept. 29. That's when the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York presented its findings from an FBI investigation that revealed corruption, bribery and wire fraud and filed charges against four assistant coaches (USC's Tony Bland, Arizona's Emanuel "Book" Richardson, Oklahoma State's Lamont Evans and Auburn's Chuck Person). Multiple schools, including Louisville and Miami, have been implicated. No university officials or head coaches have been charged, but Louisville parted ways with coach Rick Pitino.
More may be coming down the pipeline.
What we know is this will change college basketball. Some coaches have privately cheered the indictments, hoping the scandal might clean up things and level the playing field between the cheaters and those who recruit within the rules.
The NCAA took an important step by creating an independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The Knight Commission meeting mentioned several areas that could use reform — and that most of us already were aware of as problem areas — from the role of shoe companies and agents, to the AAU circuit, to the one-and-done pattern established by the NBA's age minimum.
Eliminating the one-and-done rule would surely help — and would be the moral thing to do, considering nobody should be forced to delay a professional career and the acquisition of generation-changing wealth.
At the meeting, Hall of Famer David Robinson brought up the most valid and feasible way to change the landscape: allow college players to profit off endorsement deals. Given the NCAA's history, it's an idea that will be ignored.
As the season tips off, what we know of the FBI investigation may be just the beginning.
It's hard to imagine this not being the dominant storyline of the season. We've been forced to look at reality.
Plenty of questions are swirling as the 2017-18 college basketball season begins.
What impact will new coaches have, such as Archie Miller at Indiana or Brad Underwood at Illinois? Does defending national champion North Carolina have enough talent left for another deep run? Is this finally the year for Sean Miller and Arizona? How far can Michigan State go after an injury-plagued 2016-17 season? Is Kansas poised for yet another Big 12 title?
And will the FBI probe into corruption in recruiting place a stagnant cloud over the season?
Here are some early predictions:
Arizona. Junior Allonzo Trier and 7-1 freshman DeAndre Ayton are a dangerous combination that could take Miller to his first Final Four.
Michigan State. Coach Tom Izzo has the right mix of a returning star in sophomore Miles Bridges and youthful talent in 6-11 freshman Jaren Jackson. This could be a special year.
Duke. Senior captain Grayson Allen will have to guide a talented group of freshmen. Marvin Bagley III's clearance to play this season after reclassifying into the Class of 2017 was a game-changer for the Blue Devils.
Wichita State. The Shockers' move to the American Athletic Conference from the Missouri Valley will mean stiffer competition, but it's nothing they can't handle with a veteran roster that brings back its top seven scorers.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Miles Bridges, Michigan State. He surprised many by returning to East Lansing for his sophomore season after averaging 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds. His athleticism will be a problem again for opponents in the Big Ten — and in the NCAA Tournament.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri. Wouldn't it be nice to see a one-and-done player's talent translate to success for his team, unlike Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz in recent years? The 6-10 Porter could help make coach Cuonzo Martin's Tigers a winner before heading to the NBA.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State. Marshall has helped erase the Shockers' "mid-major" label. A successful season in a new conference could bring him national honors.
Seton Hall. Senior center Angel Delgado averaged 15.2 points and a nation-leading 13.1 rebounds last season to little fanfare. Expect that to change and the Pirates to go further than their first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez join Delgado to make up a trio of 1,000-point career scorers.
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