SAN FRANCISCO — Since the Pac-12 moved its preseason basketball media day to the conference’s SoMa offices in 2012, the celebratory aura has become undeniable.
Head coaches and top players lounge on trendy furniture while talking with print and digital media. They head to the Pac-12 Networks set for upbeat on-air interviews, and into Pac-12 studios to dribble and smile and laugh — and look tough — for the television promos that will be used all season.
Videos and posters decorate the place and, as always, everyone can pick from a themed luncheon dessert in honor of each school (Colorado Rocky Mountain Road Brownies, anyone?)
Even a little sugar probably can’t coat over the cloud that will hover over Thursday’s Pac-12 media day. The conference’s two best teams on paper for 2017-18, USC and Arizona, both had a coach arrested and face potential NCAA allegations as a result of the FBI’s sweeping investigation into college basketball corruption.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Wednesday that he met with women’s coaches about the issue and said he would discuss it in more detail Thursday.
“We’re very concerned about what we’ve read so far in terms of the allegations,” Scott said. “If true, it’s very worrisome.
“It will be obviously a relevant topic at men’s basketball media day, so I’m going to speak to it, and I think you’ll see us take some steps in this area, primarily focused on men’s basketball.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle says he’s already been taking steps of a sort for years: That is, according to what Boyle told Yahoo! Sports, he pulls out of a recruitment anytime there becomes a hint that a player or his handlers are looking for payment, or if a school with a reputation for cheating becomes involved with that player.
“Every single year it happens multiple occasions, and it’s been that way for the seven-plus years I’ve been at Colorado,” Boyle said. “Every single year, multiple kids. We have to make those decisions pretty quickly because if you get too far down the line, you’re wasting a lot of time with a kid that’s not going to end up at Colorado.”
Even if that sort of problem is unique to men’s basketball, Scott said that the idea of ensuring integrity though change and reform “cuts across all sports.”
Two of the conference’s top women’s coaches spoke to that message Wednesday.
“I think our No. 1 thing is to lead them as human beings,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “So if I’m not acting with integrity in my own job, I’m certainly not the leader I can be for them.
“It’s a good chance to reset and say, ‘What path do we want to go down here and make sure that we’re the leaders in terms of how collegiate athletics is supposed to go?’ ”
Oregon coach Kelly Graves said hearing about the men’s allegations was “too bad, honestly” because coaches are “stewards” of the game.
“I would like to think that we all want to hold ourselves accountable and uphold the integrity of the sport by doing the right things,” Graves said. “I think sometimes the drive to win can make people do things they wouldn’t normally do. But hopefully it doesn’t mushroom even more to something bigger and that it stays out of our game on our side.”
The NCAA announced a move toward reform Wednesday, with president Mark Emmert announcing a committee that will to look into “critical aspects of a system that is clearly not working.”
The Pac-12 has some prominent ties to the committee. It will be led by Condoleeza Rice, the former Stanford provost and U.S. Secretary of State. Among the 13 other members is former Stanford and Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who was known to steer clear of some travel-ball figures during his days coaching in the league.
“While I believe the vast majority of coaches follow the rules, the culture of silence in college basketball enables bad actors, and we need them out of the game,” Emmert said.
“We must take decisive action. This is not a time for half-measures or incremental change.”
Boyle has already been speaking out in favor of significant change. Boyle told Yahoo! that things will simply revert to normal once the FBI investigation is over, unless the NCAA and schools create stronger disincentives for violations.
“If they go back to the way it was, it will pass like a storm, and the problems will come back,” Boyle said. “When you see coaches who have been fired for breaking NCAA rules and then rehired elsewhere, that sends a message loud and clear to coaches that if you win and you get caught cheating, there’s another chance down the road.
“If you lose and you’re clean on the other hand, you may not be hired again.”