UGA Basketball

Mark Fox, at length, discusses FBI probe's 'black cloud' over college basketball

Georgia head coach Mark Fox speaks at SEC Men's Basketball Media Day.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox speaks at SEC Men's Basketball Media Day. AP

During Wednesday’s SEC Men’s Basketball Media Day, the FBI’s investigation into corruption within college basketball became a hot topic among the 14 coaches in attendance.

Coaches whose programs have been implicated – Auburn’s Bruce Pearl and Alabama’s Avery Johnson – chose not to speak on the subject. South Carolina’s Frank Martin made sure to reiterate that his program is not under investigation, while former assistant Lamont Evans, who was most recently with Oklahoma State, was implicated.

Other coaches whose programs aren’t under investigation gave varying responses. Arkansas’ Mike Anderson expressed disbelief. Florida’s Mike White wasn’t too surprised based on the industry’s rumor mill.

Georgia head coach Mark Fox previously said the allegations weren’t much of a shock to him based on what he probably thought was taking place in the sport.

Fox, in the middle of a 10-minute interview with The Telegraph, spoke about the FBI investigation and if anything can be done to corral this kind of behavior.

Here is what he had to say:

On if coaches need to begin policing each other over violations, since the NCAA doesn’t have subpoena power: “I think we’re in a situation where people’s greed outweighs their ethical values. It sounds great to say we’re going to police ourselves. We’re not going to do that effectively. We need to penalize those who break the rules and have that be a deterrent. The NCAA, their tool box is limited as far as investigations because they don’t have subpoena power. I think each individual institution has to do a better job policing their own house. If we would all do that I think we would have a healthier game as opposed to policing each other.”

On how he feels when he hears rumors of programs or coaches breaking NCAA rules, with not many repercussions following: “Certainly there is some frustration when that occurs. I would say that if we heard something at Georgia, UGA would get to the bottom of it. It’s just how we operate. We need every school to function that way. If we did that nationwide, our game would be better. I’m not sure we’re doing that nationwide, thus we have the climate we have right now.”

On if he agrees to the perception that more college basketball programs skirt the rules than follow them: “I think the perception probably is that there is a lot of that going on. But a lot of it is celebrated. The media celebrates some of this stuff by praising certain places’ ability to get players. Obviously, we all have a part in it. At the end of the day, it’s a black eye for the game. We’ve got an obligation to try and make it better.”

On how he handles a recruit on if he hears he is linked to a potential violation: “If you see somebody’s compromised their eligibility then obviously you wouldn’t recruit them. As a coach, if you sense that the road is one leading to a direction of under-the-table things, we’re not going down that road. I think the key is identifying which situations are which.”

On ensuring his staff is in line with his principles in recruiting: “That’s one of the reasons you try to hire people you know and that you have communication within your staff. It’s really important to know what your staff is doing and it’s the rule now, to know what your staff is doing.”

During the 25-minute period he met with reporters for his media day appearance, Fox received more questions regarding the FBI investigation. Here is what else he had to say on the topic.

On if Georgia has been contacted by the FBI and what his overall reaction is to the investigation: “I’ve had no contact with the FBI and I do not believe the university has been contacted. If they have been I think I probably would have heard about it. My reaction was that I think it’s shocking to people because if you don’t live in this world, you don’t have any sense that there might be some shady things going on. If we want to be honest about it, there are a lot of coaches who may be some things that have been occurring. Some of that has been exposed. Whether they prove to be true remains to be seen. But it’s a dark cloud for the game. Hopefully we can use it to make it better.

On the “shady things” comment and whether rule-breaking is common: “If I play cards with my kids, OK, I’m going to do everything I’ve gotta do to win. So when competition is involved, you get people out of bounds. It’s why we have referees. When people’s greed outweighs their ethical values, you get some significant problems. It’s not probably good to cheat my kids in cards but when you have jobs like we have, we owe it to the game, we owe it to our schools, to the league, to college basketball to do it right. We’re the caretakers right now. It is a great game and we have to leave it in a better place when our time is done.”

On the notion that the “competition” he speaks of won’t stop: “Let’s say the argument is let’s start paying players. OK, let’s pay players. That doesn’t mean you’re still not going to get someone to give them something on the side to pay them more. The bottom line is whatever the rules are – whether it’s paying guys, great, I think they should get more. But if the rules are what they are now, let’s all operate within the rules so it’s a level playing field.”

On getting everyone to a level playing field: “We have to police ourselves in this way: Not that we police each other but I think each school has to make sure it has a clean house. We make sure that our house is clean and operating the right way. I think if we all did that internally then it might make a difference. But I don’t know the solutions to all this. If I did, I’d share them.”

On if he’s ever felt pressure to break NCAA rules in recruiting: “That element exists in a lot of places. I’ve never felt pressure to do that. We know it makes the job harder to do it right. It’s just how we are going to do it.”

On if he’s concerned for the health of the sport with this scandal: “I read a quote from (Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski) years ago and he talked about how sometimes destruction is a good thing, you’re destroying bad habits or bad things. Sometimes it’s a good thing. You can use that theory in this situation. If we can blow some of this nonsense up and make the game better then this could turn into a pivotal moment to make the game better. Right now it’s a black cloud. We hope it doesn’t become a big ole hurricane. We owe it to the game to do it right. You guys are here writing, following the game. You’re getting paid because of the game. I’m getting paid because of the game. The game is very rewarding. Our kids are getting more and more every year. We hope it can become as fair as it can be. But all of us who are involved, the stakeholders in the game, we owe it to the game to treat it the right way. That’s really how I feel about it.”