Geno says the system is broken, no easy fix to this
PHILADELPHIA — It was a cloudy Monday morning in the City of Brotherly Love. A few raindrops would eventually fall.
Meanwhile, inside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in New York — 100 miles north of where Geno Auriemma huddled with reporters for American Athletic Conference media day — the forecast was far more ominous. The college basketball federal corruption trial, a black eye for the NCAA, had resumed.
Adidas executive James Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and Christian Dawkins, an aspiring agent, are accused of funneling money to the families of multiple highprofile men’s basketball recruits. They face charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each man has pleaded not guilty.
Following the proceedings from afar, Auriemma, now in his 34th season as the UConn women’s coach, is fairly certain that the sport he remains at the center of is not plagued by the same, ugly problems.
“Nobody’s going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a kid coming out of school when the money
they invest is more than that kid’s ever going to make,” said Auriemma, speaking at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott. “The finances are different. It’s all about the money, so we don’t have that issue. Whatever may go on on the women’s side is kind of silly stuff.”
That’s not to say, of course, that Auriemma, is unconcerned about the way the NCAA continues to handle its business. He feels quite the opposite, in fact. The Hall of Fame coach was fairly blunt Monday when asked about corruption in college athletics, saying that for anything to improve, systematic changes need to be made.
While the level of corruption is difficult to quantify, Auriemma recounted a recent conversation with another coach that went something like this: “I said, ‘How many teams in the top 20 are doing something they shouldn’t be doing?’ He said, ‘15, on average.’”
In other words, yes, there are problems.
“Something’s going to have to change,” Auriemma said. “The way the system is right now, it’s broken. People don’t want to admit it. They want to continue to live in this fantasy land, but it’s broken. Every coach knows it’s broken. That’s knowing that 90-plus percent of the coaches in America are doing it the right way.”
Auriemma does not reside in this so-called fantasy land. He lives far, far away from it, well aware that the underbelly of college basketball reeks of greed, envy, jealously, deceit — you name it.
“The whole system is going to come under attack — not individual players or coaches,” he said. “The whole system needs to be revamped. People say, ‘For what?’ I have no idea.”
Auriemma’s concerns about the women’s game are of a different nature. With players transferring at a higher rate than ever before, Auriemma fears the NCAA softening its restrictions to allow players to change schools without having to sit out a year. Call it college basketball’s version of free agency.
The NCAA recently modified its transfer rules, allowing players to bolt for another school and receive a scholarship without having to ask their current school for permission.
“If that ever gets changed where kids can transfer without having to sit out a year, I think it’s going to be the beginning of the end in some ways,” Auriemma said. “The team you have in the first semester is not always going to be the team you have in the second semester.”
The Huskies have dipped their toes into the transfer pool more in recent years, albeit to mixed results. Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara became eligible last season after transferring from Duke and Kentucky, respectively, following the 2015-16 campaign. Guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter, a former five-star recruit out of Ossining High School in New York, transferred to Mississippi State just seven games into her UConn career last February.
Stevens, a 6-foot-6 forward, was a key part of UConn’s Final Four team, averaging 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. However, she surprised the Huskies by declaring early for the WNBA Draft. Camara, meanwhile, had a much smaller role, averaging 1.3 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game off the bench. Auriemma said that the 6-2 forward has struggled “a little bit” to adjust on the court.
“We’re trying to zero in on certain roles for all of our kids,” he said.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma during the annual First Night celebration, in Storrs on Oct. 12. Auriemma recently weighed in about the corruption that is plaguing college basketball.