Kyle Kuzma among players named in FBI probe of NCAA

NCAA Basketball: Utah at California
Feb 2, 2017; Berkeley, CA, USA; Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma (35) reacts after a play against the California Golden Bears during the second overtime period at Haas Pavilion. The California Golden Bears defeated the Utah Utes 77-75 in double overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

My small little Indiana town was as stereotypical as they come. It was a town with plenty of farmers that was a little too reliant on factory work. When the factory disappeared, so did much of the life in the town.

Much like the stereotypical Indiana town, it was also one that was lived and breathed high school basketball. My time in middle school and high school coincided with high school career of Matt Howard, the future center for Butler’s back-to-back teams that earned spots in the national title game under Brad Stevens.

Once Howard left my small town and moved to Indianapolis and Butler, the town was swept up by those Bulldog teams. The street lines downtown were painted blue. Flags flew all around the town with the Butler logo on them. And a local t-shirt design store whipped up some shirts supporting Howard and Butler on them.

The shirts sold like hotcakes. Everyone was ordering them. That was until word came down that the shirts must be discontinued. You see, the shirts featured an outline of Howard in a Butler jersey. Or, more specifically, it featured Howard’s likeness, an instant no-no from the NCAA.

I shrugged my shoulders and thought not much more of it. Until, in the weeks after, I attended a Butler home game and saw, hanging from the racks in the bookstore, a No. 54 jersey – Howard’s number. It was clear many had been sold and I distinctly remember, as a young high schooler, wondering why our local store couldn’t benefit off his likeness, but the university and the NCAA could.

That was my first journey into the hypocrisy and general sleaziness of the NCAA. I would come to find out my situation wasn’t an isolated one. Players were being exploited for money by the schools and the NCAA itself for profit.

Which brings us to present day. The NCAA is embroiled in one of its biggest scandals ever. With the FBI sniffing around and digging up dirt, the whispers of what went on around college basketball are now being shouted from atop a mountain. To no one’s surprise, players were accepting payments from agents like kids accepting candy on Halloween.

Current Laker Kyle Kuzma was one of the names mentioned in Friday’s report from Yahoo Sports as having received money from ASM Sports while at Utah. While a total amount isn’t known, at least yet, Kuzma received “at least $9,500 while in school.”

Fellow prominent prospects received larger amounts. Dennis Smith Jr. received nearly $75,000 in total while at NC State. Isaiah Whitehead pocketed upwards of $37,000 at Seton Hall. Markelle Fultz received $10,000 while at Washington.

For anyone not under a rock or incredibly naive, this all comes as no surprise. It’s been a terribly-kept secret for years, even decades, that players were receiving money to attend certain schools or sign with certain agencies.

What’s different this time around is much of the reaction surrounding the report’s release. The narrative from most has shifted from “punish the players and programs” to “pay the players.”

Lonzo Ball was outspoken about the matter at Friday’s shootaround, speaking in favor of paying players.

Even prior to Kuzma’s reported involvement in the NCAA probe, the former Utah Ute also spoke out about paying players, along with teammate Josh Hart.

According to Business Insider, the NCAA generates upwards of $1 billion in ad revenue alone during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, a number that has skyrocketed in recent years and is on an upward trajectory. Come 2025, the NCAA’s TV deal alone will exceed $1 billion as well.

In 2014, the NCAA nearly cleared $1 billion in revenue alone, according to the Huffington Post. The SEC reported a per-school payout of $40.9 million for the 2017 fiscal year. SB Nation gathered the figures for other schools and they were just as staggering. While the Big Ten paid out a measly $34.8 million per school, their $2.64 billion TV deal signed in the summer of 2017 will likely put them up in the SEC’s stratosphere.

Texas A&M recently announced a reported revenue of $211 million dollars for 2017. That, however, wasn’t even the highest total in its own state as Texas raked in $215 million in 2017. Alabama had to settle for only $174 million in revenue for 2017.

You could keep up with this all day. The NCAA, a non-profit organization, is bringing in more money than they could possibly know what to do with. The disconnect between Kuzma being given $900 a month or Hart $300 while a program like Texas A&M averaged $17 million in revenue PER MONTH is hard to wrap your head around.

The old adage that the NCAA is paying for scholarships of these athletes is clearly one that has grown hilarious out-dated. That was a viable argument when San Francisco was a basketball powerhouse and Adolph Rupp was being racist coaching Kentucky.

When the NCAA is making in the neighborhood of $500 million off the College Football Playoff alone, the argument that players are properly compensated with a $20,000 per-year scholarship loses all its footing.

There is no clear solution as to how to pay the players. It’s likely a complicated structure that would take a while to plan out.

What wouldn’t be complicated, though, is allowing the players to use their own likeness. If football players want to trade signed footballs and jerseys for tattoos, they should be allowed. If a business wants to pay a student-athlete for his autograph, why is that the matter of the NCAA?

And if schools and the NCAA are going to profit off a player’s likeness, like they came under fire for four years ago, then that money should go to the players.

In the meantime, others can work on a system where players are properly compensated.

The idea of amateurism is dead and gone and each billion-dollar television deal is just one more executive dancing on its grave. A share of the pie for the student-athletes that are being exploited is long overdue.

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