Basketball business

Now more than a game

By Marc Katz

I almost dropped my cell phone when I heard what Paul Biancardi had to say.

“I have a greater respect for the media, and the job they do and how they do it,” the ESPN college basketball recruiting analyst and former Wright State University coach said.

“Sometimes media folks can be very slanted in their opinion before they write something. I even do some of that. I have to do a better job of listening. I realized you had to work very hard to get your information.”

It was work covering Biancardi in his three years (2003-06) at WSU because he made access difficult. I’m not going to rewrite the news here.

Yet he was also charming, even while his life was falling apart amid allegations he gave money to recruits and players in a previous position as an assistant to coach Jim O’Brien at Ohio State.

I bring this up now because college basketball is again facing tough questions in a world the NCAA seems unable to mediate.

Already Rick Pitino, one of the sport’s most honored coaches, has lost his job at Louisville over an alleged shoe company payout for a player to attend his school.

Several assistant coaches have lost their jobs and are facing jail time for funneling players to certain financial advisers and agents.

The FBI is involved, so you know it’s serious.

It makes what the NCAA charged Biancardi with seem like minor infractions.

I’d like to think I didn’t dislike Biancardi, just the way he managed his time—and mine.

Of course, his third year here was fraught with diversions.

There’s no use litigating all that again, except to remind you O’Brien lied about giving more than $6,000 to a 7-foot-3 recruit, illegal even though the NCAA declared him ineligible to play in college for other reasons.

At the same time, Biancardi was accused of giving money and clothes to a family housing an actual OSU player.

In his mind, Biancardi was caught between pleasing his head coach or following NCAA guidelines, which, he doesn’t believe, he actually broke.

“I’m responsible for my actions,” Biancardi says. “There’s no one else to blame.

“I told the truth, and it wasn’t believed. The [NCAA] never gets to the real truth. They get to the partial truth. They decided not to believe me.”

To Biancardi, providing a recruit with a T-shirt, food, or a suit shouldn’t be a violation, not when some coaches have been accused of funneling kids to agents and financial advisers, and taking kickbacks.

“I made some mistakes,” Biancardi says. “I never broke the rules. It doesn’t make me a bad person; it means I made a mistake.

“The bottom line is, it [the NCAA] is a business. It’s not amateurism. We have to stop staying it. It’s a business because we’ve made it a business.”

His involvement, real or imagined, led the NCAA to ban Biancardi from recruiting off campus, which led to the school severing ties with him, complete with a payout.

He took a job analyzing high school and college players for ESPN then accepted an assistant coaching job with Rick Majerus at St. Louis.

At the finish of the 2007 season, ESPN returned, offering a newly created “recruiting director’s job” to Biancardi.

He turned it down, offering names of friends who might accept the position, since he was back in coaching, his first love.

A short time later, the network called again. It really wanted Biancardi, adding inducements until he accepted.

Biancardi relished the thought of being in one city—he’s in Charlotte—holding a long-term contract and being around his family. He has one daughter in college, another in high school.

“The decision was more about stability and security for family,” Biancardi says. “It turned out to be an unbelievable situation.”

Even with a flood of cuts at ESPN, Biancardi has survived. It’s a lot of work, but he loves it.

“There’s a perception it’s a soft landing spot,” Biancardi says. “I see that you guys work. I put in a lot of unseen hours—camps, radio, TV; it’s been beyond a blessing.”

He doesn’t see the current scandals as ruining college basketball so much as changing it.

“Getting the FBI involved won’t change things right away, but we will have a better idea of the truth, who’s guilty and who’s not,” Biancardi says. “We’ve got to find a way to clean up our rules. I think there will be a lot of good out of this, but it won’t be immediate.”

There’s one more thing Biancardi would like to say.

“I loved Wright State and I loved the people at Wright State and I absolutely loved my players. We were a close group.”

He didn’t say anything about loving the media. I suspect, way deep inside, he loves us, too.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Marc Katz
Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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