The ethical divide: Michigan basketball coach John Beilein is trying to help clean up college basketball
John Beilein has paid attention to the ethics portion of college basketball throughout his 31-year career as a head coach.
Now he’s in a position to act.
Beilein, going into his third year as University of Michigan’s basketball coach, became the chair of the newly formed NCAA ethics committee in May, a group of 14 coaches set to examine the current culture in college basketball.
It won’t be an easy job, not with 343 Division I programs to try and please.
“That is really the biggest challenge right now,” Beilein said. “Is to get a clear agenda of what are important issues. But you will be focusing on one issue and something real and very important can come up that nobody ever thought of before.
“I don’t think there’s a science to this thing. We just have to chop away at being persistent in trying to identify the biggest problems.”
The biggest problems are well known.
The scandals in the sport, from the accusations that former USC coach Tim Floyd paid former star O.J. Mayo to come to Southern California to former Baylor coach Dave Bliss trying to cover up the murder of one of his players by another in 2003 to the allegations surrounding Memphis, former guard Derrick Rose and potential academic fraud before he arrived in Memphis are just some that have come to light.
“There are times I wonder if we can ever get this thing under control, quite frankly,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “To a point where it’s, I’m very concerned about that."
All of this leads to Beilein’s new committee and what, exactly, it can and will be able to do and coaches seem to differ on what they’d like to see the committee accomplish. The committee will have its third meeting - a teleconference - sometime in September.
DePaul’s Jerry Wainwright wants it to become a comprehensive educational tool starting with prospects and going to parents, summer basketball event coordinators and coaches.
Toledo’s Gene Cross wants the committee streamline recruiting.
There used to be a time at summer basketball tournaments when the post-game handshake would be almost a receiving line with college head coaches waiting to talk to a specific recruit’s coach. The NCAA abolished that and eliminated contact during the July recruiting period, which is the main evaluation time for basketball coaches.
It also made for potentially awkward situations.
“There has to be some uniformity relative to the tournaments,” Cross said. “We’re told we can’t interact with players, parents, what have you, and there’s certain events, you go to the events and there’s absolutely no way you can run into or have a brush of illegal contact with an illegal player or prospect or parent.
“Then there are other tournaments where there’s virtually no way, you basically have to run through a crowd of people and act like you’re the most rude person in the world so you don’t violate any of the rules.”
Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne’s Dane Fife hopes it can make things fairer during the recruiting process while making recruiting less of a year-round process and St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, another member of the committee, wants it to become a group interested in the “greater good” of the game and trying to educate younger coaches on the ethical dilemmas in the business.
One of the problems that will definitely be discussed, according to Beilein, stems from a recent New York Times story about coaches being charged upward of $300 for admittance and a mandatory informational packet to summer basketball tournaments.
Both Eastern Michigan coach Charles E. Ramsey and Fife expressed dismay at the cost of the packets. Ramsey eventually refused to pay. Fife, a coach at a small school in the Summit League with no revenue from football and whose second-largest sport is men’s volleyball, had no choice because of his budget.
“We quit buying most of them if they gave us that option,” Fife said. “You talk about leveling the playing field, we’re already in an economic crisis as it is. It causes quite an economic crisis for some programs, even 300 dollars.
“That’s a lot of money to some programs.”
One thing Beilein doesn’t want the ethics committee to become is a policing unit. Both he and Martelli see it as more of a mentoring process.
The two coaches, along with Brey, have had conversations with younger coaches during recruiting periods to explain how to avoid potentially sticky situations. And while Cross said he’d like to see cheaters called out more publicly to the committee, it doesn’t sound like that will happen.
“My intention, I would walk off the committee and resign my spot if we were responsible for being the ethics police,” Martelli said. “That’s not what we are. That’s not what this is about.
“It is about creating conversation and trying to determine where are the areas that we all need to do better.”
And this is where Beilein stresses patience. He knows changing a culture going back as far as the 1950s with point-shaving at CCNY will take time. Martelli said it may take a full recruiting cycle to understand the problems within the sport and get good feedback.
Beilein said within the next year he’s hoping “we’ll be able to make some impact. Like I said, it’s not overnight.”
Others, though, are skeptical how much things can change at all although most see the formation of the coalition, with Beilein as its head and the ability to mentor, is at least an attempt at a positive step.
It’s everything else that leaves coaches concerned.
“The other stuff going on in our sport right now, I don’t know if anything can change unless there are drastic changes,” Brey said. “And I don’t know if we have enough ammunition yet.”