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UNC Basketball: Putting Roy Williams’ FBI comments into context

Sometimes knowing what’s happening is different than knowing how something is happening.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-North Carolina vs Texas A&M Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

By now, everyone has likely heard that Roy Williams had his first press conference of the season last week. In assuming this, it is also fair to assume that everyone has heard what Williams said during the press conference about the FBI investigation. For those who are not completely familiar, here is what he said:

“It’s a massive thing that’s still going on, and I’m just dumbfounded,” he said on Tuesday. “I had somebody criticize me and say ‘you shouldn’t be dumbfounded.’ Well, excuse me, I have my right to have my own feelings. That world that they’re explaining out there I’m not familiar with. Period. In 30 years as a head coach I have never had anyone ask me for money. I have never asked any shoe company to recruit for me. I have never asked anyone other than the family what is most important to you.

”So that world, people act like it goes on all the time, it does not go on all the time. It is a world I’m not familiar with.”

Readers can access the entire press conference by clicking here.

Since the statement was made, media outlets have zeroed in on that last sentence. Williams stated that this is something that does not go on all the time, despite what people think, and that he is not familiar with that world. Everyone is under the assumption that Roy has been in the game so long that he has to know that this type of thing happens, and that he is denying it either for the sake of denying it, or, depending on who exactly you ask, they might even think he does it himself.

Before we proceed, one thing must be made clear: I am here to tell anybody what Roy Williams has or hasn’t done while recruiting student-athletes. I am not the FBI, I am not the NCAA, and I am not Bubba Cunningham. I have no way of knowing anything that goes on with Roy and his staff behind closed doors, and I refuse to approach it as if I do.

With that said, the attacks that have been made against Roy’s comments have been outrageous. He is clearly stating that never in his career has he been asked for money, offered money, or asked a shoe company to help him recruit players. Starting with this alone, it is understandable why anybody would have reason to believe that he isn’t completely telling the truth — shoe companies can basically do what they want to a fault, as we have seen in Adidas’ case, and there is no way that Williams can prevent shoe companies from offering help. As of right now, we don’t really know how involved Nike was with recruiting players, but we do know that Phil Knight has went on the record saying that they do not operate in that manner. The issue here is that Nike is a massive company, and Knight may not necessarily know enough to make such a statement. That is, however, a story for another day. The point Williams is trying to make, however, is that Roy Williams has never asked a shoe company for help.

As far as the statement that everyone is so hung up on, what Roy Williams delivered was a carefully worded statement about how he doesn’t know how any of these particular recruiting tactics work. To fully grasp what he is saying, think of it this way: everyone is familiar with the act of flying a plane, but not everyone knows how exactly it is done. Nowhere in Williams’ statement did he say that it never happens, or that he has never had any hunches about this type of thing going on. He is simply stating that he doesn’t know how any of that works, and when he found out how it works he was dumbfounded. It’s pretty cut and dry.

Do I think Roy Williams knows that these things happen? Sure, it’d be naïve of me to believe otherwise. The issue, however, is that when he cannot prove that these things happen with any substantial evidence, what is he supposed to say? Making baseless accusations is far worse than not saying anything at all, and in this case, would also open up Williams to potentially being questioned by both the FBI and the NCAA as to what he knows. In theory it sounds like the right thing to do, but that’s an awfully big can of worms to open in the name of leveling the playing field. Taking the Kermit sipping tea approach may be the smartest move to make.

Unsurprisingly, Roy Williams wasn’t the only coach in the Triangle questioned about everything that is going on with the FBI. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski made a similar statement in regards to the FBI situation this past Monday:

“I really haven’t followed it that much,” Krzyzewski said about the trial during his team’s media day press conference on Monday. “I think it’s minute, it’s a blip. It’s not what’s happening. ... We haven’t lost guys because someone cheated. I haven’t paid attention to it because I haven’t been affected by it.”

One other thing that Coach K said during the press conference that actually did make me raise an eyebrow, is that college basketball is “pretty clean”. This is quite an extreme statement for K to make, but once again, it is plausible that he hasn’t ever been directly involved with any of this. Keep in mind that in college recruiting, assistant coaches tend to play a heavy role in recruiting, and because of it there have been a number of assistant coaches that have been tied up with the FBI for making deals with AAU coaches and shoe companies. Are there situations where head coaches have knowledge of what’s happening? Evidence says that yes, there are. However, there are also situations where head coaches aren’t mentioned at all. It’s all very, very messy, and to assume every single head coach in America knows exactly what’s been happening is assuming a lot. For the record, though: saying college basketball is “pretty clean” is something that really shouldn’t have been said if even the FBI is telling us otherwise.

In short, I think when speaking about who knows what in the world of super shady recruiting and FBI investigations, the finger pointing needs to stop. The biggest reason is because some of these head coaches actually do have all of the integrity in the world and want nothing to do with any of the seedy dealings that have went on for years. Do we know which coaches / athletic departments those are? We all have guesses, hopes, and assumptions, but truthfully at this stage in the game, anything is possible.

However, assuming the worst in people for the sake of assuming the worst in people is a dangerous game. College basketball means the world to a lot of coaches out there, and so ultimately we should all let the FBI and the NCAA do their jobs. Nobody is asking us to do it for them, and quite honestly, that’s how it should remain.