The Block: Fixing “The Fix” In College Basketball

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The Block is a weekly column by Online Sports Editor Bradley W. Parks exploring the issues surrounding Ohio Basketball and the rest of the college basketball landscape.

This installment is a special edition, after the FBI's revelation of a game-fixing scheme in college basketball.

Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. It’s the assumed promise that what you’re getting is true and real. Lapses in integrity can leave trust broken.

People expect integrity in sports. It’s why folks don’t want steroids in baseball and flopping in soccer or basketball. It turns what happens on the field, the court or the rink plastic.

Sports fans enjoy imperfections like an umpire calling balls and strikes instead of a robot that could be 100 percent accurate. In reality, the call can’t be right every time. Sports are imperfect.

When the news emerged on Monday, May 20, that guard Brandon Johnson of the University of San Diego Toreros was a key piece to a point-shaving scheme in college basketball, fans, his coaches, teammates and opponents were cheated. It made the game on the court they thought to be true something fake. Staged. Unreal.

In March, Johnson was sentenced to six months in prison, ordered to report May 31, for his role in the game-fixing scheme.

“[Johnson] disparaged the integrity of a university and disparaged the integrity of basketball,” said U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia in court, according to a story by The Associated Press.

Johnson finished his career as the all-time points and assists leader at San Diego. The Toreros garnered a West Coast Conference Championship and an NCAA Tournament victory over Connecticut in his sophomore season.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said “at least four games were ‘fixed’ with Johnson’s assistance” during the 2009-10 season. Johnson influenced games by purposely missing shots or passing up open shots on occasion to help bettors beat spreads.

Now, San Diego is charged with the task of rebuilding after having scandal infect its program. The first step was weeding out the problem. Johnson tried to recruit Ken Rancifer, a forward who finished his time at San Diego in the 2012-13 season, to participate in the game-fixing scheme after Johnson had graduated. Rancifer did not take the bait.

Other schools must now avoid letting another Brandon Johnson infiltrate their respective programs. Compliance departments, however, can only take preemptive measures. Ultimately, it’s up to the coaches and players to abide by the rules. Universities can only act retroactively.

“We trust our coaches and athletes are doing things the right way,” said Ohio Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance Lauren Ashman.

Ashman said today’s standard of communication and constant connection make it much easier for regular briefings on the rules. She added that, at Ohio, student-athletes take initiative to know the rules when it comes to sports wagering.

“Our student-athletes have been good at asking about things like fantasy football,” she said. “To me, that’s refreshing.”

Ohio Athletics’ gambling policy states: “Gambling and bribery pose a significant threat to the integrity of college athletics.” It’s the threat of jeopardizing the trueness of the game and the purity of sport. Though purity is far from feasible when big money meddles in college athletics, it’s comforting to know shots were missed because of bad luck, not lapses in integrity.