ATHENS — I was going to ask Mark Fox a basketball question. I swear. It was my turn next on the microphone, and I was going to ask the Georgia coach about using only eight men in his team’s 93-82 win over LSU on Saturday.
But then, as is occurring nationally, off-field news got in the way of basketball.
ESPN reporter David Hale, who had been dispatched mainly to cover the LSU angle of the FBI investigation, stuck around for Fox’s press conference, since Fox had been so outspoken about the matter. A day before he called it “the tip of the iceberg” when it came to corruption in basketball recruiting. And that was before ESPN reported that Arizona coach-for-now Sean Miller was caught on wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to a recruit. And it was before Yahoo Sports added more to its previous strong reporting.
So Hale, like any good reporter, decided to see if Fox had any more thoughts.
And away Fox went.
“I’m disgusted,” he said, pausing a few moments. “I’m disgusted with how people have treated our game. It’s absolutely disgusting. You know, there’s always going to be unethical behavior. Let’s say we give each team $1 million to pay your players. You know, someone’s not going to like the salary cap and they’re going to find a way around it.
“But whatever the rules are, and I’m all in favor of trying to find ways to help these kids more and more, if it’s a way to get the kids compensated more, I’m 100 percent behind that. But whatever regulations we have in place, we’re supposed to follow them.”
Fox then compared it to a baseball game: “My team gets four outs per inning and your team gets three. That’s not fair. And the way people have treated our game it’s just disgusting. And it starts with the coaches, and everybody else.”
Fox had also been asked how he thought the NCAA was handling the affair so far.
“The NCAA is made up of member institutions. How are the institutions handling it? That would be my first question. How are they handling it? Putting their head in the sand and looking the other way — or dealing with it.”
Fox said he sat his team down Friday and talked about the scandal, and the importance of “doing things the right way.”
“I’m past anger, sadness, it’s disgusting,” Fox said, finishing his 2-minute and 30- second soliloquy by saying: “We have treated the game so poorly.”
At this point it was my turn with the microphone, so I ditched my question about the eight-man rotation and asked a two-parter. Fox would only end up addressing the first part.
Have you had to back off a player and lost a player because the recruit or someone close to him wanted to be paid?
“Most of those things that occur happen in the shadows and the darkness. So, most of the time nobody ever finds out, even though your instincts tell you what’s going on,” Fox said. “Until the FBI has gotten involved people didn’t know it. So, absolutely we’ve had some situations where we didn’t get players because of that reason. And other teams have, too.
“I firmly believe you can still do this job the right way. And that’s how we’re going to do it.”
That last part was the closest Fox came to addressing the second part of the question: Should his tenure at Georgia and status going forward be considered by his trying to do things the right way, and not winning as many games because of that?
Georgia won the game on Saturday, and has now won three of its past four, but it is still only 16-12 overall, and has an uphill climb to make the NCAA Tournament. Fox has only made two NCAA Tournaments in his nine years, and if he doesn’t make it this year, his tenure may well come to an end.
Earlier in the day I asked Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, via email, given the revelations coming out about basketball recruiting, if he would like to offer any comment on how it impacts his view on Fox’s approach and his status going forward.
“We are very proud of the way Mark Fox consistently represents the University and Athletic Association,” McGarity responded through a spokesman, leaving it at that.
McGarity, you will note, did not address the last part of the question.