The FBI’s investigation into college basketball recruiting, which cast a cloud over the sport during the 2017-18 season, could have been launched not years but many decades ago, points out former Kansas and NBA forward Scot Pollard.
“Let’s not act like it’s a new thing. It’s been going on since the early days,” the 43-year-old Pollard said in a phone interview on Thursday. Pollard's comments came a day after the 12-person independent commission on college basketball issued recommendations for the NCAA to follow to improve the sport. The commission was formed as part of a response to FBI indictments that allege shoe company representatives have steered basketball recruits to play for certain schools by paying players, players’ family members and/or guardians.
“I mean, c’mon, it was way before the mid-1990s (when highly recruited Pollard played college ball). Are we going to act like Wilt Chamberlain didn’t get paid to go to Kansas? John Wooden’s players (at UCLA) were all very well paid. There’s a reason he owns all those championships in a row,” Pollard added.
Pollard indicated he has personal knowledge of the practice of paying high-school players to attend certain schools. He related the story of his sister being offered an inducement to steer him to an unnamed college during his senior year (1992-93) at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Wash.
“My sister didn’t tell me until I retired from the NBA," Pollard said. "They (unnamed representative of an unnamed school) said, ‘You’ve got a $2 million shopping limit in La Jolla (Calif.) for a house, and we’ll get you a job,’’’ Pollard related.
“She (sister) could have set herself up and never told me," Pollard said. "She could have said, ‘Hey go here (certain college).’ She could have done that, and I never would have been mad at her for doing that," he added.
Pollard said his sister dismissed that offer quickly. He said he dismissed other offers as well.
“Yes,” he said if he was offered incentives in recruiting. “From a different school. Kansas is one of the few that didn’t offer me money. Everybody was talking to me. Some of the offers I knew about, some I didn’t. I stayed away from them. I didn’t want to break any rules and knew I didn’t want to get any of my records stripped away as far as team records. I’m not talking personal records. I stayed away from the people who said, ‘Hey, what’s it going to take?’’’
Pollard said he didn’t take any money in high school or college, though he certainly could have used it.
“I was broke as a joke,” said Pollard, who went on to play four years at KU and 11 seasons in the NBA. “I was on government assistance. I got a Pell Grant. I was poor. My dad was dead, and mom was on government assistance. I had no money. I needed money and worked my butt off in the summer doing camps for (Washburn coach) Bob Chipman and was a cart boy at Alvamar (Golf Club). You can’t work during the school year, so I was broke during the school year.”
His experience may have influenced his current position on how the NCAA could solve many of the current ills in the game today. His stance of “pay the players” was not considered a possibility by the independent commission on basketball, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“It starts with playing the players in college," Pollard said. "Anybody who argues that there’s not enough money … they don’t know how big those television contracts are. There’s only 300 Division I schools, and the contracts are a billion dollars. C'mon. There’s money.”
He added: "The NCAA wants to keep adding rules to keep themselves relevant. They can say, ‘That’s why we have to spend so much money. We get all this money but it goes all into enforcement.’ Well, then cut some rules out. Start paying players. That money goes to the players instead of punishing schools for doing what they have done since the beginning of schools.”
Pollard said one way the NCAA could provide money to players would be to let them “go to a local apparel store in Lawrence and sign autographs for an hour and make however much they want to pay you. You can make money off jerseys that have your number on them. Put your name on them. That will keep more kids in school, too.”
Pollard — his Planet Pollard podcasts are available on the Internet — was not impressed with the NCAA’s setting up the commission. He was not especially impressed with the group’s recommendations. Some of the recommendations — increasing the penalties for schools that violate rules; having the NCAA run summer recruiting — would likely require the organization to add staff members and more red tape.
“I think it’s ridiculous and extremely egotistical of the NCAA to think they could add more responsibilities and rules to their own organization and think they can somehow police them and keep this under control,” Pollard said. “What they need to do is take a look at themselves, then tighten up the waist belt, pay the players, make less rules, cut these rules about paying players, cut these rules about agents. The NBA needs to step in and say, 'This is how we are going to solve it.’ It comes from the top down. Nothing the NCAA does has ever been effective as far as rules. Why would they think they could start now in 2018 and think anybody is going to pay attention to them?”
Pollard was interested in the commission’s stance on eliminating the one-and-done rule. The commission wants players to have the opportunity to turn pro right out of high school.
So does Pollard, who has his own plan.
He is all for having the truly special talents — such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan — be able to turn pro out of high school, but have lesser talents attend college or play overseas until they are 21.
“Force every lottery team to sign off on a potential draftee,” Pollard said, using elite high school senior guard Romeo Langford as an example. “If all the (14) lottery teams sign off on Romeo, he can go into the draft. If you don’t get every single lottery team to sign off, you can’t get drafted in the NBA until you are 21 (or until each lottery team signs off after reapplying). What you do in between is your business — take a more serious look at school or other leagues, overseas, whatever.”
Pollard said if all 14 lottery teams “sign off” on the player, or agree to take the player, that player must be selected in the lottery. Pollard did not approve of the commission’s recommendations that college prospects be able to contract with NCAA certified agents when they are in high school.
“There you go," he said. "That’s going to allow players to get paid. If you don’t think that’s true then you have your head in the sand. I made a movie about it: ‘The Profit.’ That’s what I was trying to get across in that film. As soon as an agent is involved there is money being exchanged whether it is behind the scenes, whether the college coaches know about it, whether they are in on it. Whether they are not. Whether the AAU coach or high school coach … as soon as an agent is involved there’s an apparel company involved and money being exchanged somehow, some way, to family members, relatives, coaches, friends. There’s no stopping that. There isn’t. Period.
“The NCAA is trying to think, ‘Oh yeah if we can think up some more rules we’ll solve this problem.’ They are wrong. If they are going to let players sign with agents in high school then just start paying them. They’re going to get paid anyway.”
Pollard said schools should consider breaking off from the NCAA.
“Four superconferences of 16 teams. Get it to 64 teams,” he said, “and bye-bye NCAA. Schools can say, ‘We’re going to privatize our tournaments, sign our own TV contracts, have our own bowl games.’ The rest of the NCAA can be the NIT.
“I think the NCAA has outlived its necessity. It needs to go away if anything. So does the IRS,” he added. “We need to figure ways to simplify people’s lives instead of just figuring ways to get people in trouble for not knowing the rules that people did not know existed."