The recent bribery scandal that rocked college basketball did not come as a surprise to those who pay attention to the sport. What has bubbled under the surface for years, fueled by the rise of AAU basketball and the infusion of money via shoe companies, was made public when multiple coaches were indicted in late September. There was a notable casualty in legendary coach Rick Pitino, who was fired in disgrace.
But as of now, the scandal has only been publicly confined to college basketball. Naturally, this begs the question: Will college football be next? Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby gave a very plausible scenario.
Bob Bowlsby on hoops scandal: "You don't have to have too vivid an imagination to see this show up in other sports." (Yes, football)— Guerin Emig (@GuerinEmig) October 24, 2017
Bob Bowlsby asked if FBI probe could spread to college football: "That thought has occurred to me. Cites 7-on-7 competition.— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) October 24, 2017
A moment to explain 7-on-7.
It’s a football practice drill in which QBs and skill players face linebackers and DBs. Basically every team at every level does this every day.
In recent years, prep football has developed its version of AAU basketball. It’s not a 1:1 comparison, but 7-on-7 football is similar in this respect: It’s a version of the sport that sits adjacent to the traditional high school structure. While some high schools do form teams, it’s more likely to be private teams performing in competitions sponsored by (among other actors) shoe companies.
For instance, Snoop Dogg hosts a team that will compete in an Adidas competition this summer.
It has become a national sport, with teams that tour the country over the summer. Nike’s staple offseason recruiting camp, The Opening, culminates with a 7-on-7 tournament. Adidas also has a nationwide series of tournaments.
Much like AAU basketball teams, 7-on-7 teams can often be a hodgepodge of talented regional athletes. South Florida Express or Florida Fire, for instance, are teams that feature the best players from that talent-rich portion of the country. Miami Central, Miami Northwestern, and American Heritage are powers in the area, but the 7-on-7 teams can cherry pick the best players and create something of a super team.
So what would a 7-on-7 scandal look like?
Consider the structure of the FBI’s case against the indicted coaches. There’s one vital cog here: the shoe companies.
Alleged NCAA coach bribery scheme in a nutshell pic.twitter.com/JyJJ0jeG68— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) September 26, 2017
From our national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott:
It's certainly possible that college football would have a sister scandal to the one currently engulfing college basketball. Shoe companies do sponsor schools, 7v7 leagues, and 7-on-7 teams. But they have less incentive because football players are less marketable than basketball players, and they have to stay in school for three years, not just one. Far more likely is what has always been happening, like Steven Godfrey described in his brilliant "meet the bag man" piece.
The middle men could use the existing bag man structure, which moves payments to players to entice commitments and keep players on campus. The orbit of college football recruiting is much stronger around individual schools without the outsized impact of a shoe company.
A college football scandal involving 7-on-7 teams would likely take the form of college coaches buddying up with 7-on-7 coaches to influence teams to come to college summer camps. It would be much more about an immediate return on investment, without the carrot at the end of the stick that is getting a player to sign with a shoe company after he’s left for the NBA. There wouldn’t be a long play of waiting for the NBA, even if that cash out happens right after a player’s freshman season.
A clear example would be a coach from College X attempting to form a pipeline from a specific 7-on-7 team by dissuading a 7-on-7 coach from going to rival College Y’s summer camp.
Depending on family situations and other factors, sometimes it’s difficult for a player to travel to a particular college campus unless he goes with a 7-on-7 team, especially if the college is out of his region. Many college coaches won’t offer a player they haven’t seen in person, and one of the strengths of 7-on-7 is getting more players in front of coaches in game-like situations.
One reason football isn’t publicly in the crosshairs yet:
Basketball players are more financially lucrative than football players.
They don’t wear helmets, so they’re more recognizable. The NBA is much more personality-driven than the NFL.
Basketball players are safer bets. You can forecast with much more certainty which 16-year-old will make the NBA vs. which 16-year-old will make the NFL.
And that means shoe company money is a much bigger factor in basketball. Also, shoe companies are much more likely to sponsor individual AAU basketball teams, in addition to whole competitions.
College football is rife with corruption, and it is only a matter of time before it has a scandal that mirrors that of college basketball’s.
College football isn’t cleaner just because the feds haven’t indicted anyone. The fact that it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.