It probably will prove to be bigger than any point-shaving scandal to hit college basketball. It’s an FBI case involving corruption and fraud in recruiting, and Rick Pitino is the first big name to take a fall.
Pitino has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, which essentially means he is expected to be fired as Louisville coach. This is not Pitino’s first scandal. He danced with the devil and sidestepped the consequences a couple of times.
This is also just the beginning. The news that broke Tuesday and Wednesday was a tsunami warning. For starters, Pitino is the face of a case that could have far-reaching implications and threatens numerous elite coaches, players and programs.
There are countless questions about the immediate future of college basketball. The upcoming season seems sure to be tossed into chaos. Who will survive the wrath of the feds?
“You don’t know how this thing is going to shake out,” said William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich, a former college basketball player. “It’s just waiting on more news.”
There are handicapping angles to the story, of course. Adjustments to the futures board are coming, with the first move made Wednesday by oddsmakers at the Westgate. Louisville was dropped from 15-1 to 30-1 to win the 2017-18 NCAA championship.
In reality, the Cardinals have little or no shot. NCAA penalties, including a postseason ban, are probably on the way, in addition to Pitino’s impending exit and player defections.
Jimmy Vaccaro said no teams are being taken down from the South Point futures board, though he’s watching the news closely and ready to make odds adjustments.
Duke is posted as the 5-2 favorite at the Westgate. Kentucky is the second choice at 7-1, followed by Arizona (10-1), Kansas (12-1), Michigan State (12-1), North Carolina (25-1) and Villanova (25-1).
A few of those teams might get tangled up in the mess, including a rival down the road from Louisville, but that’s speculation. Arizona is on high alert.
After a three-year FBI investigation, federal prosecutors announced charges of fraud and corruption against 10 men associated with the sport, including four assistants — Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson, Auburn’s Chuck Person, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and Southern California’s Tony Bland.
Louisville, according to the complaint, is linked to a $100,000 payment to the family of five-star recruit Brian Bowen, who committed to the Cardinals in June.
While the NCAA has neglected to keep college basketball clean, the FBI is taking up the job. Most of the media members and former coaches pretending to be shocked and screaming about the sleaze in the game look like hypocrites. Who did not know widespread cheating has been happening? It's the worst-kept secret in sports.
The top six teams in the Blue Ribbon Preseason Top 25, released last week, are Arizona, Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville. But the Cardinals will fall fast, and others may follow. There could be value in betting Wichita State, the seventh-ranked team and rising, at 30-1 odds. Also consider Florida (30-1), West Virginia (60-1), Cincinnati (100-1) and Purdue (100-1).
At the South Point, Vaccaro said, there are 53 futures tickets on Arizona, the most popular team on the board, and only one on Louisville. The ticket on the Cardinals might as well be used as toilet paper.
“I guess it’s safe betting Duke because nothing will be done to them,” Bogdanovich said. “Look for programs that have never been in trouble and take a shot that a bunch of teams get eliminated. Maybe only Louisville gets eliminated, who knows?”
Blue Ribbon Preseason Top 25
1. Arizona 2. Michigan State 3. Duke 4. Kansas 5. Kentucky 6. Louisville 7. Wichita State 8. Florida 9. West Virginia 10. North Carolina 11. Southern California 12. Villanova 13. Cincinnati 14. Purdue 15. Seton Hall 16. Miami 17. Saint Mary’s 18. Minnesota 19. Notre Dame 20. Gonzaga 21. Xavier 22. UCLA 23. Northwestern 24. Alabama 25. Virginia Tech