By Robert Rich
The University of Arizona has gained national acclaim for its prestigious Division-1 basketball team. Only last summer, blue-chip prospect & Wildcat alumni Deandre Ayton was drafted first overall to the Phoenix Suns in the 2018 draft. However, the foundation in which the program was fostered appears to be crooked to its core. The University has reportedly spent at least $1.4 million in legal fees since the Wildcats’ assistant coach, Emanuel “Book” Richardson, was arrested on charges of bribery and fraud.
Under Public Records, the University spent $796, 817 at the Steptoe & Johnson law firm and $623,822 at the Jackson Lewis firm. The bills covers 3,100 hours of legal work under the supervision of at least 15 different lawyers. The case has persisted since Richardson was arrested last year in lieu of a larger FBI investigation into NCAA basketball. The school has reported that the bills are not being paid with university revenue or state money.
“The University of Arizona is committed to the ethical conduct of all our enterprises, including athletics. We have cooperated fully with the law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the NCAA and we will continue to do so”, Chris Sigurdson, UA Spokesman, said.
The University is estimated to have netted $11.7 million from its basketball program last year after expenses, making the entity an obvious money-maker for the University.
However, this issue is a microcosm of a much larger problem in college athletics in general. In the modern age of AAU and adolescent sponsorship deals, education’s relationship with athletics has never been more strained. Forty years ago, the agreement that the top athletes will gain a four-year University education for their services seemed like a fair deal. The process has now become a more complex issue. Ever since the NBA agreed to no longer allow the largest blue-chip prospects to be drafted straight out of high school, the practice of having the top incoming-freshmen only spend one year at a University before going straight to the draft has become a common, wide-spread practice.
The NCAA’s instance on hindering the free market has shown to be more in the self-interest of the Universities than the players. The NCAA allegedly topped $1 billion in revenue, yet the athletes make no money from the for-profit programs having the rights to use their likeness in their events or marketing. Many of the tops players do not actually care for their education, while the schools still profit from the lesser players who will most likely never get the opportunity to make any money from the skills they have honed since a young age elsewhere.
The current system does not work, leading many to fall for corrupt behavior in under-the-table deals. The NBA is even looking into retracting their one-and-done rule. Corruption will persist unless some fundamental changes are made with the NCAA to ensure that both parties are getting a fair deal. The University of Arizona should lead the charge and be part of the solution, not a continuous part of the problem.