Rick Pitino (finally) takes a fall

Photo: Courtesy of USA Today

We’ve published a number of articles about him. It was just a matter of time. But it took the FBI to finally end the run of ‘Slick Rick’ Pitino, the head basketball coach at Louisville.

But the scandal goes much deeper to include multiple schools, assistant coaches, AAU coaches, advisors, players’ families and Adidas. Nike is likely under investigation as well. The source of the scandal? Shoe money used to motivate players to select the ‘right school’.

Still, one had to laugh when college basketball commentators and analysts voiced ‘surprise’ at the unfolding events which are likely to get much more lurid as the FBI exercises wiretaps, provides immunity, and files charges against a growing group of ‘facilitators’.

Pitino is merely the public persona of the worst college basketball has to offer. And even then, winning covered all his faults in the eyes of Louisville fans, the school administration, and the NCAA. As head coach for the richest basketball program in the land, Pitino was nearly bulletproof until the feds came along.

Some have argued that the solution is to pay players a salary in addition to a stipend and a scholarship. Wrong answer.

The answer is simple.

Start a professional junior NBA league for high school and college-aged players to develop their ‘skills’ and get paid. The reality is that most Power 5 players, especially 4 and 5 star talents, as well as some mid-major players have little or no interest in school or a degree. Nothing wrong with that. Give them another option – even if they want to play professionally while still in high school.

Like baseball’s minor leagues, an expanded basketball development league could offer a post-basketball fund for league players who want to return to college to complete their education. And, like the growing NBA Summer League featuring up-and-coming draftees, there would be great interest in up-and-coming NBA prospects. This could be achieved with funding from TV contracts, shoe contracts and salaries – all above the table.

Why would this work?

Just take a look at college baseball, one of the purest college sports. High school students have two options. They can either go into the minor leagues as paid professionals or play college baseball. Many times, high school students are drafted before their senior year in high school. Both routes are viewed as legitimate paths and there is nary a scent of scandal in college baseball.

Blueblood college basketball programs like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, and Louisville would continue to draw top college prospects but have less access to “one and done” players. And coaches would be working, by and large, with players who want to be there for academics and sports.

And the commissioner? Rick Pitino is available.