Izzo's Suspension Shows That 'College Basketball Is Out Of Control'

What typically annoys me most about college recruiting hype is that perhaps in all of our fervor to track down and secure the best high school basketball talent in the nation, we forget that these are generally 17 or 18 year old kids we're talking about.

And implicated in that "we" is fans, media, and the coaches who recruit players.

When asked about the recruiting process after Wednesday's basketball practice, Washington Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas described it as annoying.

"Especially if you're known around the town or the country, everybody wants to know where you're going," said Thomas when a reporter asked about the process of being recruiting from high school in general. "It gets annoying at times. It's fun, but it gets annoying at times, especially if you really don't know where you're going, asking that question."

In a complete distortion of priorities, our own so-called "need to know" trumps the reality that these are 18-year-old kids making a decision that can be life altering even for the average student who dreams of "just" being an accountant one day. Many kids get annoyed if their parents try to influence their decision. Imagine if it was more than just a few people who might actually be able to legitimately claim to have your best interests in mind?

We have established an entire industry around it fed by the pressure on coaches to get the best recruits, fan obsession with the fate of their team, and a far too often sensationalistic media that tries to convince the obsessed fans that a coach's success in bringing in unproven prospects will lead to glory on a national championship scale.

I've (half-)jokingly referred to it as the college recruiting industrial complex in which we treat high school athletes as recruits instead of human beings, never mind that whole student-athlete thing or whether an 18-year-old kid who has yet to secure his high school diploma might dare to have life aspirations beyond basketball.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo just calls it out of control.

The level of absurdity this whole business has reached is best embodied by Izzo's suspension from Saturday's game against Prairie View A&M for hiring a middle school summer camp counselor who has been identified as as "Individual Associated With a Prospect".

Izzo Will Sit Out Saturday's Home Game - MICHIGAN STATE OFFICIAL ATHLETIC SITE
During the annual MSU Boys Basketball Camp, an individual was employed and paid the normal rate for services performed ($475 for five days of work), as he worked with middle school age campers. That individual has been identified by the NCAA as an IAWP. The IAWP was not accompanied by the prospect, nor did he have any contact with the prospect while coaching at camp.

"As an institution, we believe Coach Izzo and his staff have always demonstrated a commitment to compliance and will continue to do so," said MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis. "This inadvertent secondary violation occurred in a changing landscape. We find ourselves in unchartered territory in light of this broad definition. Defining who is an IAWP can be difficult, especially when dealing with an individual that has demonstrated no influence on a prospect. It is also important to note that this is only a secondary violation, and with Coach Izzo sitting out a game, the case is closed. While the penalty seems severe for a secondary violation, this is a new mandate from the NCAA and the Basketball Focus Group by which we will abide."

Bear in mind that my gripe here is not with the rule that might identify and punish people abusing the opportunity of middle school basketball camps. My gripe is that in fact the rule actually makes sense.

"There's a rule out there that states that in elite camps there's been a problem where people for one day pay a large amount of money to somebody to come in, bring a recruit in, and it's a one day camp," said Izzo during his press conference today (click here for full audio). "We don't have one day camps. And so in no way, shape, or form did we think in any way we did anything wrong. But by the broad letter of the law here, it can be interpreted in many ways and I have to accept the interpretation of the NCAA.

"It's my job to know it...I do gotta say that I think there's a disconnect a little bit between coaches and what goes on. And I think sometimes, like our country, we complain often how things are. And I think this kinda states that college basketball is out of control by having a group like this strictly for men's basketball. But I think they're trying to do what's best and it's my job to accept what they've come up with."

When the NCAA has to form a group specifically to look into how coaches run camps - even for middle schoolers - which are supposed to be for the benefit of the youth participating, things have gotten to a sickening level of absurdity. It's not entirely disconnected from the tragic level of absurdity depicted in the classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, in which even middle school players are treated like commodities for high school coaches.

Regardless of whether Izzo deserves to take a suspension for this, the fact is that he's essentially taking the fall for a sports culture that has spun completely out of control. It's not just coaches, it's not just colleges, and it's not limited to those who work in athletics. It's also not new and unfortunately only seems to be accelerating as more coaches stoop to the level of using middle school camps for their own ends. Call me idealistic, but we should probably expect more of adults paid by "institutions of higher education" - if the adults continue to be completely out of control, I am at loss as to how or why one would expect more of the kids.

And all that aside, at the very least we can say that the whole process of recruiting is at least as annoying to many adolescent student-athletes as it was to Thomas.

I know plenty of people who reject sports as a form of entertainment precisely because of nonsense like this and although I love basketball too much to reject it because of an insane sports culture, I don't blame people who do.

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