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Judgement, Rage, Retribution, and Thyme

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LSU is guilty. I just don’t care.

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Louisiana State
See? This happened.
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The last few days have been a whirlwind for LSU basketball. After years and years of trying, Pete Thamel finally had his gotcha moment, and LSU reacted swiftly by suspending Will Wade and Javonte Smart. Instead of closing the matter, it only poured gasoline on the fire, as the most intense basketball crowd at the PMAC in decades showed up to boo the athletic director and watch the team win the SEC regular season title.

The collective college basketball media reacted to the news by expressing that it is shocked… SHOCKED!... that gambling is going on in this establishment. Dickie V, after spending years carrying water for Pitino, Williams, and Self, immediately attacked LSU. But the award for most histrionic take went to Dan Wolken, who you can always count on in these sorts of situations.

Remember, the NCAA is not a court of law. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is not required to end careers or slap significant sanctions on a program. And schools that know there’s a big problem on their hands are way better off getting rid of it as fast as they can rather than doubling down on the notion that the rest of us are stupid.

Even if you don’t like NCAA rules, even if you think amateurism is stupid, it is impossible to see LSU playing in this tournament as anything but a farce. Without the minor complication of having a chance to get to the Final Four, this would obviously be the time to take their medicine, sit out the NCAA tournament and get a head start on paying for the investigative carnage that is coming their way.

Yeah, let’s ask Ole Miss and Missouri about the idea of throwing yourself on the mercy of the NCAA. Meanwhile, UNC got away with academic fraud by simply denying everything to the end. Yahoo has even more against Miami football, including the literal receipts, and the Hurricanes got off with scholarship reductions and no postseason ban. Playing ball is an insane strategy that just tempts the NCAA to spin their Wheel O’ Justice.

And the idea that LSU paying Javonte Smart, and let’s not pretend LSU is not paying its players, somehow casts a pall over the legitimacy of the tournament is laughable on its face. The same FBI wiretaps have caught Kansas, Arizona, Creighton, TCU, and perhaps dozens more yet to be revealed.

Zion Williamson, the best player in the sport and easily the biggest draw of the tournament, was caught on the tapes selling himself “to the highest bidder.” We don’t have proof Duke paid him, but we don’t have proof LSU paid Smart either. If we’re going to play the “don’t pretend we’re stupid” card to connect the dots, then why is it only being applied to LSU and not the sport’s blue bloods?

And there we get to the crux of the issue. The fact of the matter is, the media thought this issue was going to explode last year during the Adidas trial. Let’s check on Wolken again, last October:

Sorry, but the head-in-the-sand routine being performed by Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams isn’t going to work anymore. The credibility of the sport is under withering assault in that courtroom, and there are still two more trials.

What’s being revealed isn’t some anomaly; in fact, everything about the evidence suggests it was altogether normal.

Just consider the text exchange between Gassnola and Self on Sept. 19, 2017, shortly after Kansas and Adidas had agreed to a new $191 million apparel deal.

After Gassnola thanked Self for helping complete the deal, Self responded “Just got to get a couple real guys,” seemingly referring to recruits.

Gassnola texted back: “In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line. Too (expletive) bad That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I’m right. The more you have lottery picks and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”

Self responded: “That’s how (it) works. At UNC and Duke.”

Gassnola answered that it works that way at Kentucky, too.

“I promise you I got this,” he texted Self. “I have never let you down. Except (Deandre Ayton). Lol. We will get it right.”

But here’s the thing. Remember what happened after the Adidas trial? That’s right, a big old bag of nothing. Why? Because people do not give a damn. The tide has turned so now a majority of people support players being paid, and nobody is going to pretend to be shocked at the underground economy. Which, by the way, is the absolute proper reaction. If you can’t legally pay players above the table, the market will move under the table. It’s not like players do not have value because the NCAA says so. This America, and talented people should be rewarded for their labor.

Denying there is a market when there clearly is one is like trying to shove shaving cream back in the can. You can try, but it won’t work. Wolken and his ilk have gotten years of columns pretending to be outraged that a market exists for talented athletes, but consumers aren’t buying. No outrage followed and certainly no reforms. Because “reform” means continuing a system of refusing to compensate the employees of a billion-dollar industry.

But they keep trying again. Go re-read Thamel’s article again. This is a guy who has run into trouble with his reporting on Tyrann Matheiu, Oklahoma State, and of course, Mantei Te’o. Here he is again, eagerly reprinting leaked documents to score a big scoop.

Whenever a story relies on a leak of some sort, it’s always good practice to ask yourself who benefits from the leak. The FBI doesn’t share its information with anyone. The NCAA isn’t a government organization and lacks subpoena power. Also, they are not a party to the case, so they do not have access to any sealed court documents. The FBI really has no incentive to leak this, as they don’t give a damn about LSU having to vacate wins.

So what name pops up over and over? Chris Dawkins’ defense attorney, Steve Haney.

Haney’s defense is clearly to go scorched earth on the college basketball coaches. Which is fine, his duty is to his client, not to some random coach. But he’s the guy who benefits from having it all burn down. Remember, the FBI isn’t investigating the coaches, it was investigating the shoe companies. Will Wade received a subpoena from the defense to appear as a witness. He’s not a defendant.

So LSU fans are rightfully cheesed off that they are being singled out. And while I give the defense attorney a free pass on this, as he’s trying to keep any more time being added to Dawkins’ sentence, the national media types are feasting on this to score cheap moralizing points.

But to argue that LSU going to the tourney is somehow unfair to all of the other schools paying their players too requires an extreme level of cognitive dissonance. Really, what they seem to be mad at is that Will Wade didn’t cheat better. Bill Self used an assistant coach and Coach K seemed to farm this out to boosters entirely. It’s called a burner phone, Will. That’s just lazy.

If the NCAA hammer drops, then fine. The rules are stupid and flagrantly violated on a daily basis, but the rules do still exist. LSU has no room to complain if the hammer comes. But the fake moralizing from the national media is tedious and beyond obnoxious.

On top of that, LSU is insane to play ball with the NCAA in the hopes of a lesser penalty. Just go whole hog. What does it matter? If Smart’s ineligible, he’s already played this whole season, so you might as well go the whole way. If the NCAA later strips the title, then… whatever. It still happened. They aren’t going to come around with Men in Black clicker things and erase our memories.

I hate to say it, but follow Auburn’s example. They were also caught red-handed, but they simply denied everything and then went out and won the whole thing, and simply dared the NCAA to take it away. LSU should follow suit.

Step one, win the whole frickin’ thing.