By Dan Bernstein–
670TheScore.com senior columnist
(670 The Score) Other commentators will have deeper and more detailed commentary on the FBI investigation that’s rocking the world of college basketball, but the powers that be are still best represented by the guy who made them.
Dick Vitale is the single personification of what the sport has become and how it got here, having turned his broadcasting pulpit into an engine that drove the building of empires and the crowning of coaching kings, all backed by an endless supply of money from shoe companies. Since the boom of the mid-1980s and the rise of ESPN, he has been both the emblem and top salesman for this fantasy world that has relied on the convenience of unpaid labor.
So to watch him navigate the current storm in front of the public is to see what’s likely to happen in the coming days and what’s not.
If there are receipts, you’re dead to him.
“Coach Sean Miller should be FIRED NOW ! He has ruined his career ,” Vitale tweeted Saturday, responding to the reports that said the Arizona coach was heard on a recorded conversation negotiating to pay DeAndre Ayton $100,000.
Vitale continued thereafter, posting “This certainly is NO SHOCK / Arizona Must clean house starting with Sean Miller / no place for making efforts to buy players ! Cats MUST be banned from @marchmadness IF Deandre Ayton took the alleged cash mentioned in FBI report .”
This wasn’t his tone on the air just hours later, however, as he broadcast Syracuse and Duke from Cameron Indoor Stadium. Despite Duke center Wendell Carter also being named as a recipient of impermissible benefits, Vitale was content with the school’s official denials of wrongdoing, as the latest floor full of future NBA players did the bidding of their respective feudal lords below him. He continued to see only the best in Mike Krzyzewski and late in the game felt the need to offer a full-throated defense of now-exiled Louisville coach Rick Pitino, insisting his friend apparently had no earthly idea about all those hookers.
This is how it’s going to go, with selective and imbalanced outcomes to all of it as news continues to leak out and more names get named.
For the better-connected, it’s “Where’s the proof?” and blabber about due process. For the red-handed, it’s torches and pitchforks. Vitale even jousted with Lakers guard Lonzo Ball after Ball said, “Everybody knows everybody’s getting paid, that’s just how it is.”
“Tired of hearing ppl saying everyone gets paid” Vitale said in a tweet that tagged Ball and asked him if he got paid. “can’t INDICT ALL.”
He picked up the theme early Monday, too, again tweeting “This is ABSURD / Do not INDICT ALL ! @ZO2_ saying everyone gets paid / I asked but got no reply / Lonzo Ball did you get paid at UCLA ? I do agree with u players should be allowed to make cash thru various ways / etc”
And at the end of that noise came an indication of what’s likely to come first in any of the industry’s reckoning, the first stirrings of professionalism that can no longer be held at bay by even by the staunchest protectors of the lucrative status quo.
Coaches like Krzyzewski and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo will probably keep operating in whatever the new world may be, with ample assistance from the human shield that Vitale will provide as long as he can. He will rail against the kind of realism offered by Ball and others about the longstanding shadow economies created by the game’s selfishness and exploitation, championing the student-athlete myth and the papal infallibility of coaches only until the evidence otherwise is undeniable or it involves someone not on his better side.
But the guardian of the gates is getting rattled, that’s clear.
Somewhere and somehow Vitale must understand that all of these players and all of these heritage programs involved with one lone agent and one lone agency have all kinds of business elsewhere, too.