Newsletter 80: Justifying the Love of College Basketball

Will Leitch
6 min readMar 1, 2019

I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. This one is from November 2017, about the moral quandary of college basketball. This was originally supposed to be a Sports On Earth column, but they forgot to post it until it was too late and I just made it a newsletter instead. That doesn’t happen very often, but hey, sometimes, it’s just free stuff.

Last night, I went to my first college basketball game of the year, watching the Georgia Bulldogs, beat the Bryant Bulldogs 79–54. This is the fifth season I’ve had season tickets for the Dawgs, and I will hang onto them until I die. I got home just in time to watch my even more beloved Illinois Fighting Illini beat the Southern Jaguars 102–54. I deeply love college basketball. I know it’s not better than the NBA. I know the main reason I love it so much is that I grew up with it. I still love it.

I haven’t written much about the FBI investigation that has roiled college basketball over the last month and a half. So let’s go ahead and do so now.

There is nothing quite like the FBI taking an interest in your sport to clarify your view of the world. Ever since College Basketball Planet was rocked by the arrests of several assistant coaches for their dealings with shoe companies in late September — with the promise of more reckonings to come; there were just indictments Tuesday — there have been two primary reactions within the sport.

1. “Holy crap, this is going to hit me or my favorite program next.”
2. “This is the burn-it-all down moment this sport has needed for years. There is corruption within the sport. This is the opportunity for that corruption to be purged.”

I might humbly submit that both these reactions are wrong.

It is important to remember what this scandal is about. Essentially, shoe companies, who have hundreds of millions of dollars potentially to be made off young basketball players, have funneled cash through college basketball assistant coaches to give to those teenage players and their families, with the expectation that those players will both attend a particular school and eventually, if their talents end up meriting it, sign with that particular shoe company. It’s basic venture capital speculation: Shoe companies give a…

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com