CBS Sports college basketball writers Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander surveyed more than 100 coaches for our annual Candid Coaches series. They polled everyone from head coaches at elite programs to assistants at smaller Division I schools. In exchange for complete anonymity, coaches provided unfiltered honesty about a number of topics. Through the rest of this week we’re posting the results on 10 questions asked.
It’s easy to make an argument that this spring and summer provided the most consequential run of NCAA-related headlines in the 111-year history of the organization: a landmark 9-0 Supreme Court ruling that dressed down the organization; the forthcoming restructuring of the NCAA’s constitution; yet another remodeling of the NCAA investigative process; COVID-impacted policy changes; a gender-equity review of the women’s NCAA Tournament; and more.
Above it all, of course: the long-overdue implementation of name, image and likeness legislation, which allows college athletes to legally earn money (based off their athletic reputations and/or achievements) for the first time. After decades of pushback, and facing a July 1 deadline this year that was essentially imposed due to some states making it legal to earn NIL compensation, the NCAA blinked on June 30 and adopted “interim” legislation that made NIL a school-by-school determination.
Now that college athletes can hire representation and allow for opportunities to make money above the table, it’s created a new dynamic — a professional one — in college sports. Affluent businesspeople and companies can now promote their products by signing college players to sponsorship deals. Does that mean a lot of the under-the-table nefariousness is going away? Will NIL deals wither cheating behavior, since there is no cap on how much can be earned and third parties can negotiate without fear of impacting the player’s eligibility?
We asked college basketball coaches …
Will NIL rules increase or decrease cheating in college sports?
Increase61%Decrease34%Stay the same5%
Quotes that stood out
Those who said cheating will increase
“It will increase because the current rule is coaches can’t have involvement in setting up deals. If you believe coaches won’t set up deals, then please let me sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.”
“It’s legal cheating. There’s no other way to put it. It’s legal cheating. I can arrange for FedEx to offer this guy a million dollars in NIL. It’s nasty, it’s ugly, but it is legal. All bets are off.”
“Are you serious!? Cheating has been around since I was born and it’s only gotten worse, even with coaches doing jail time. I can’t tell you enough how glad I am to be out of the SEC.”
“We basically have put in place an unenforceable rule in that the coaches or the administrations cannot have guidance to the young players in terms of NIL. So anyone who believes that is truly going to be the case at 100 out of 100 schools is turning a blind eye to reality. How can the coaches not be involved? If you’re guiding them, and crossing the line by presenting them opportunities, it’s going to go hand in hand. You certainly have the parents asking. I believe there will become a cottage industry of jobs that deal with this on campuses in football and basketball.”
“It will increase and the lies/promises will continue to get worse. I think that has become one of the first questions you ask a prospect in the process now. The crazy thing that these people don’t understand is that there’s only about 15-20 NBA guys that actually make the big money from an endorsement perspective. And the majority of our guys are not bona fide NBA pros. What NBA role players actually have big endorsement deals?””The answers to this should be 100% (for cheating). Everyone knows what’s going out there. It’s at the forefront of people’s decision-making process. ‘What’s up with NIL? Do you guys do NIL?’ People don’t even know what it means and how it’s supposed to be used, but it’s something for kids or families to make money while they’re in college. Technically we’re not supposed to be involved with it at all. You’re supposed to have an agent, supposed to deal with compliance directly, but I don’t think a lot of programs are treating it that way.”
“It will likely increase because there is no way that some of the alleged promises being made can happen without cheating. It also makes the cheating easier to accomplish because the amount of cash being moved around now has escalated incredibly over the years.”
“I think there’s going to be a big increase and the reasoning behind it is — from what I’ve heard — the money never really goes to the kid. Somebody around them does, and what’s going to happen is those people are going to want their own NIL and want it tax-free. I think it will go up, I really do, I don’t see it going away. There’s no chance in hell it goes down.”
Those who said cheating will decrease
“There are ways of now using NIL to curb the need to go outside the rules. As many have spoken out about, this will now create another issue with transfers and false promises to recruits.”
“It will have very little impact, as only a small percentage of athletes will benefit from NIL. I think it will decrease but only slightly in the short term.”
“I believe it will actually make things more transparent. I know a lot of schools are jockeying to figure out how to ‘legally’ pay recruits and their own players. Will be interesting to see what happens when someone pays a recruit a lot of money and they don’t turn out as advertised or they transfer after one season. Will be easy to piss off a donor!”
“Athletic departments are already organizing NIL programs that will promise income to players. In many cases, the donors don’t know who the prospects are. What’s that called? NIL? Cheating?”
“It technically decreases cheating because it’s legalized it. But more teams will illegally facilitate NIL deals for players.”
Those who said it will stay the same
“Can we define cheating? NIL has brought things to light, but nothing has been done with the bombshell dropped on college basketball a few years ago. Why would anything change with regards to how some have conducted business?”
“Cheaters will still cheat. It is still happening. No point in complaining about it. Just know who you are recruiting against and don’t waste your time. If you lose a dude due to cheating it means one of two things: you were either outbid — most likely scenario — or you were so stupid you didn’t know it was a bidding war and wasted your time as an assistant — and your head coach’s time as well.””I think all the rules should go away. All of them. They’re pointless. There’s no enforceability. So let’s stop the charade and say: Coaches, schools, you can do whatever you want to do. It’s not going to decrease cheating, you know why? Because the people who were cheating before the FBI came to town — they’re still cheating. And the people who weren’t? They’re still not engaging in that stuff. It’s moot. It’s totally irrelevant to how the sport actually operates. It’s a morality deal. You can’t legislate.”
“It’s going to stay the same. The schools that are top-tier teams in their sport will continue. You can open up cheating across the board, but Alabama’s going to be the best football team in the country and Kentucky is going to get the best players in the country. But if you got FedEx doing whatever, then yeah, there will be outliers. But at the end of the day, the sustainability of the Dukes, North Carolinas, Kentuckys, Kansases of the world [won’t change].”
I could have easily given you 30 more quotes, including a few that bluntly accused some staffs of cheating. (Any time you coaches want to go on the record with this stuff, you know I’m ready.) This is still a sensitive topic in college sports because some coaches believe this has only brought empowerment to those who see no issues working outside the rules.
But there’s some nuance to acknowledge here, because coaches found this question open for interpretation. Technically it is against the rules for anyone on a coaching staff to sell their program on NIL deals or help arrange NIL opportunities. The NCAA is clear about this: that is not allowed. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. And for many, the fact that it is happening is why they voted that cheating is increasing. You can’t do it, but if you do, you’re cheating. A lot of coaches are doing this, ergo the cheating is rising.
Some believe the opposite though: that since NIL legislation is now on the books, and because parents of prospects are asking about this during the recruitment process, it’s basically a fabric of the conversation at this point. A heavy dose of the “decrease” votes came with this mindset attached to it.
“It’s totally irrelevant to how the sport actually operates. It’s a morality deal. You can’t legislate.”
That’s what one power-conference coach told me on the phone a few weeks back. Actually tracking this is nearly impossible. Trying to create rules and barriers in a massive gray area is a fool’s errand, and it’s why, in part, the NCAA is undergoing an unprecedented rewrite of its constitution.
I didn’t have one coach make an argument against players having the option to make money while in college, which was refreshing. Considering almost all of these men coaching in D-I hoops played D-I ball, it’s logical they’d think this way; they would have liked to have had these opportunities when they were wearing a uniform as well. But there was one lament that many brought up: the NIL conversation with prospects and their parents/guardians has become a heavy part of the recruiting process, and it’s mostly just hot air. The reality is only a handful of players will have NIL deals waiting for them when they get to campus.
Getting a deal a couple years down the road is a different story. But you have to put in the work and be patient. Treating the NIL arrangement like a microwave dinner isn’t how this is going to go for 99% of players.
The good of this is more opportunity for college athletes. It should be a right, and in 2021 that creed finally became truth. The drawback, as far as the coaches are concerned, is this has caused even more crooked action and made the process of recruiting players, or keeping them on your roster, more difficult than it’s ever been before.
And college sports is no cleaner because of it because, as a few coaches propounded: You’d have to be a fool to think that under-the-table opportunities disappeared this summer. Cheating never goes out of style.
Previously in Candid Coaches: