Maybe It’s Time To Call Them The Unclean Sixteen

The NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament has always been defined by it’s catchphrases, catchphrases so good that they actually transcend sports. March Madness. The Final Four. Bracket busted.

Judging by the teams that have made it into this year’s bracket, I propose we add another catchphrase to the party, one that more accurately describes the teams that have made it here: These sixteen teams don’t exactly seem all that “sweet”.

They should be called instead the “Unclean Sixteen.”

For proof, we can start with the 2018 federal probe into corruption in the sport of college basketball, whose existence was first revealed by Yahoo Sports and involved shoe companies, agents and payments of players.

An astounding eight schools in this year’s Unclean Sixteen – Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan State, LSU, Auburn, Virginia Tech and Virginia – have had their names involved in this corruption scandal that has dragged on for more than eighteen months.

Detailed payments to players and their parents were unfurled in lurid detail, all touching in some way all seven schools.

LSU’s Will Wade, as a matter of fact, was suspended from his head coaching position in February when a wiretap surfaced that appeared to imply that he was in an illegal bidding war for a recruit.

And Auburn’s Chuck Person – himself an assistant coach at Auburn to Bruce Pearl, who was kicked out of Tennessee in 2011 after lying to the NCAA about improper benefits to players – was arrested for taking bribes to steer their student-athletes towards certain agents.

That Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and Kentucky’s John Calipari might have been involved probably shouldn’t have come as any surprise. Calipari’s entire career has been defined by him bringing teams like UMass and Memphis deep into the NCAA Tournament, only to have those appearances vacated later due to NCAA violations.

And North Carolina’s involvement might not be surprising either, given their involvement in a massive, staggering academic fraud scandal that makes many question the legitimacy of many degrees that came out of that institution, thanks to the phony easy courses that the athletics department steered their student-athletes into.

And although the mention of eight of the final sixteen schools’ names involved in this, still-unfurling pay-for-play scandal would be bad enough, but they aren’t the only ones that have been in the news for cheating or horrifying institutional behavior.

There’s Michigan State and the horrifying cover-up of sex abuse on that campus involving Larry Nasser.

There’s Florida State and their assistance in the cover-up of an alleged rape that happened on campus by star quarterback Jameis Winston, a case that ultimately was settled out of court rather than sent to trial.

There’s Texas Tech, who fielded 76 ineligible athletes back in 1997 and currently are embroiled in an acrimonious set of lawsuits with former football head coach Mike Leach, who alleges he was fired based on untrue allegations.

There’s Michigan, who famously under former head coach Steve Fisher was involved with a booster to “loan” money to star players like Chris Webber and Robert “Tractor” Traylor. Fisher would be fired from Michigan and Michigan’s 1992 and 1993 wins vacated, and Michigan basketball would be tainted through this association for decades.

There’s University of Houston, coached by former Oklahoma head basketball coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson was involved with recruiting violations at two different schools – Oklahoma and Indiana – that ended with him getting a six year show clause effectively banning him from coaching college sports. As soon as his how clause ended, Houston called him up, and he has now helped guide the Cougars to the Unclean Sixteen.

Oregon is currently under probation for NCAA violations committed from 2013 to 2017. This is after the football program was found to have committed NCAA violations under then-head coach Chip Kelley.

In 1997 Purdue was found guilty of NCAA violations when men’s basketball assistant coach Frank Kendrick arranged for a $4,000 “loan” to one of their players, Luther Clay. It was their first-ever rules violation in any sport.

Even Gonzaga, the small-school phenom, has been hit by a scandal of a different sort. The basketball team’s chaplain and Gonzaga vice president had to resign amid revelations that he recommended a pedophile priest for a job at a Tacoma hospital three decades ago.

Men’s basketball has never been a squeaky-clean sport, but the amount of corruption, illegal recruiting and downright unethical behavior involving the schools in this year’s Unclean Sixteen is staggering in its breadth and its scope, encapsulating bribery, illegal payments to players and even covering up sexual abuse.

It’s beyond a nudge and a wink about violations. It’s impossible to ignore it’s enormity, the sums of money involved, the sheer variety of the different types of corruption and violations involved, and the lives impacted. Something needs to be done.


  1. As for Bruce Pearl, you say he was kicked out at TN ” after lying to the NCAA about improper benefits to players”. To be clear, that infraction was about lying to the NCAA about the attendance of one recruit and his parents at a BBQ held at Pearl’s home in Knoxville. That was the “improper benefit.” That is silly in comparison to the pay to play schemes now being alleged by the FBI, but you are implying that they are somehow on the same level of corruption. Chuck Person was hired by Pearl as a result of the Auburn AD insisting on him being hired. His actions that were uncovered in no way benefited Pearl of the AU basketball program. It had nothing to do with recruiting players. As for Ira Bowman, when you hire a guy from the Ivy League that comes highly recommended by the Penn President, its incredibly unfair to imply some sort of bad intent or lack of judgment onto Pearl.

  2. The author should be ashamed for grouping Gonzaga with 15 other programs whose transgressions had to do directly with men’s basketball or some sports-related thing. The past 3 seasons Gonzaga has been #1 or #2 in the nation in the NCAA’s yearly academic progress report. Their athletes achieve academically in the same area as Harvard, Dartmouth and Columbia. Their coach and players represent everything that is right in college basketball. It’s as clean as it gets.

  3. To taint Gonzaga Univ. and its current team due transgressions that happened 30 years ago, one involving a person who had nothing to do with the athletics dept, is an absolute insult to the current coaching staff and players of this year’s team, or, for that matter, all of their teams in recent memory. This is supposed to be an article about sports related or basketball related transgressions. And it shouldn’t be bringing out ancient history. And what some of these teams and coaches did is nothing compared to the crap that happens at most public, major universities. We have kids killed every year due to fraternity hazing, and you want to pick on basketball players? We have racist incidents that take at campuses all over the nation. But no, lets blame the jocks.

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