Tate | Implicated programs resume roles at the top

Tate | Implicated programs resume roles at the top

Has anything changed? Generally speaking, haven't most of the FBI-targeted basketball programs gotten better?

The bombshell that rocked the sport by implicating numerous college teams and players 10 months ago has become a mere whisper as the underground economy rolls merrily along.

Kansas acknowledged two FBI subpoenas related to illegal payments to Billy Preston ($90,000) and Silvio De Sousa, and yet: Who's No. 1 in some preseason polls? Kansas! With De Sousa in the starting lineup.

You see, Kansas officials knew nothing about the lucrative arrangements brokered by Adidas on behalf of Jayhawk prospects ... like the Adidas-arranged $50,000 "loan" given Cliff Alexander's mother, Latillia, that influenced the 6-foot-8 Chicagoan to swing from Illinois to Kansas back in November 2013.

At Auburn, assistant coach Chuck Person was indicted and fired at Auburn, and faces trial in February. Nevertheless, twice-penalized head coach Bruce Pearl appears untouched with a Top 10 team ... with Danjel Purifoy missing just 30 percent the season and Austin Wiley fully cleared after both were ruled out last season.

USC's De'Anthony Melton was also suspended last season (Houston drafted him anyway), and Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu were linked with agent Christian Dawkins, who arranged Adidas-related payments of $250,000 to three players. Furthermore, USC assistant coach Tony Bland was fired. And so, in spite of a sweeping scandal there, the Trojans had their best recruiting class.

Kentucky ... Duke ... on and on, the greater the suspicions, the more attracted the recruits seem to be.

Summer musings

These and other questions go rattling through my zany and aging cerebrum:

— The NBA is angling for a cut of legalized sports betting, and has hooked on with a gaming company, MGM, for reportedly $25 million over three years. Hey, if "everyone is doing it," didn't it make sense to legalize gambling as, in the clever words of Paul Klee, we race headlong into the intersection of "sin and revenue?"

— Who'll start at QB for the Illini? It is August's big mystery. Going into the third game against South Florida in Chicago, my guesstimate, based on summer talk and general scuttlebutt is: fifth-year transfer A.J. Bush 55 percent, sophomore Cam Thomas 25 percent, and freshmen M.J. Rivers, Matt Robinson and Coran Taylor 10, 8 and 2 percent, respectively. Five close Illini media observers, basing it on the third game, projected as follows: Bush 70, 60, 20, 25 and 75 percent (see, we differ), Thomas 20, 35, 60, 45 and 20 percent, Rivers 5, 2, 5, 5 and 1 percent, Robinson 3, 1, 10, 10 and 3 percent, and Taylor 2, 2, 5, 15 and 1 percent. Conclusion: It's a guess, and we seem to be doubting the freshmen.

— If Kahlil Whitney, summer star of Chicago's Mac Irvin Fire, is visiting Kentucky this weekend, how does that impact the UI's chances of landing the likely one-and-done forward? Consider that Meyers Leonard was the the UI's lone NBA draft pick since Dee Brown and James Augustine were second rounders in 2006, while Kentucky has produced 24 first rounders and 37 overall since 2008.

— How long will Comcast, the primary cable outlet in 10 of 14 Big Ten communities, hold out in negotiations to renew the 10-year contract with the Big Ten Network? And might this be the first salvo of cutbacks — actually, massive ESPN layoffs were first — as viewers become more selective in what they pay for. If there is no Comcast resolution by Sept. 1, fans in Illinois will be scrambling to alternative (satellite) sites for numerous games that day, though the night shootout between Michigan and Notre Dame will be available on NBC.

Tate's tidbits

— Can there be another major university that, for consecutive years, has fewer than 10 seniors on a 100-plus football roster? And where the most maturity is preferred, Nick Allegretti is the UI's lone senior lineman on offense and defense.

— If 5 percent of golf courses are going out of business annually, how long will it take before we see some of the financially troubled local courses closed? Golfers are already noticing poorly maintained and reduced sand traps.

— What will be the actual cost of the UI's $79 million football building rising east of Memorial Stadium? With less than $20 million reportedly raised (more donors reportedly in the pipeline) and laborers receiving weekly checks, interest on the latest of multiple overlapping bond issues will likely send it soaring well past $100 million. They need more gifts like the $500,000 from the wife of the late Kai Anderson, co-captain of the 1966 Illini.

— In the NBA, dumping games "pays" by setting up a preferred draft position. In Major League Baseball, tail-end teams dump games by trading regulars at midseason for future talent. But in college football, there's no benefit whatsoever in losing ... and the more you lose, the harder it is to recover.

— An Aug. 16 fundraiser at Urbana Country Club will be Josh Whitman's next step in corralling $50 million for UI men's hockey. If it happens, the UI will lease the arena to handle five sports. A parking structure will be provided by the Mass Transit District. In reviving men's hockey, Whitman must add a corresponding sport (or two) for the women. This is one of the most complicated ventures any Illini athletic director has ever attempted, and $50 million is a mere starting point.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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