Column: Will Brian Bowen get his cake and eat it too?

In this Friday, April 1, 2016 file photo, La Lumiere's Brian Bowen (20) moves the ball against Montverde Academy in the DICK'S Sporting Goods High School National Basketball Tournament in the Queens borough of New York. Suspended Louisville freshman Brian Bowen Jr. has signed to play with South Carolina. Bowen was held out of practices and games after Louisville announced it was being investigated as part of a federal corruption probe of bribery in college basketball that led to the firing of coach Rick Pitino. (Gregory Payan/AP)

While the FBI investigation into essentially what is the malfeasance that is paying collegiate basketball players drudges on in secrecy, the NCAA has, by and large, had to sit relatively pat.

However, Brian Bowen, a former five-star recruit in the class of 2017 who has been at the center of the public knowledge on the case, has not. Bowen, according the FBI, received $100,000 and was steered to the University of Louisville as they colluded with Adidas representatives to shepherd him to Rick Pitino’s dominant program. When the scandal came to light Pitino was gone quickly. Bowen remained, but was held out due to concerns about his eligibility, or likely, lack-there-of.

Recently Bowen has moved on, transferring to the University of South Carolina at the start of the 2018 semester. His family has maintained that he personally was unaware of any behind the scenes proceedings.

Whether or not you believe this is irrelevant. Bowen is going to try to play basketball. Now the spotlight turns to NCAA. Are they going to let him? And when?

The Gamecocks would need a miracle and a half for Bowen to appear in uniform this season. They are likely aiming for the 2018-2019 season. But pundits seem to think this may be too soon. Bowen also may be prevented from playing the season and would have to wait until fall 2019. He has not yet been formally punished.

When the NCAA makes its ruling, next week or next fall, it is going to be setting a big precedent. If Bowen must only miss this season, the NCAA has just conveyed that if you break the rules and get $100,000, you are only going to miss one season. That punishment may not be steep enough to be a deterrent. $100,000 is a lot of money to a lot of people. Many recruits will decide it is worth the risk. Go get themselves a “bag” and if they get caught, oh well, it’s only one season. Only a select few 10-15 players are legitimate “one-and done” prospects. A missed year - a year still developing - isn’t all that bad. If you can’t take not playing, there are proven (yet challenging) pathways in Europe, Asia and Australia.

If Bowen cannot play next season, the severity will resonate in a different way. Critics will say the NCAA is taking away two years away from a young man’s life where he is trying to be one of the best at something he’s passionate about and potentially trying to make a living from. It’s already an unfair system and just because he subverted it doesn’t make the NCAA’s logic just.

It will make all parties involved think twice about the risk and reward involved in attempting a black market pay-for-play approach. Bowen will ultimately be the scapegoat and, if you believe his family, he is an innocent bystander.

Right now, it seems Bowen is still committed to playing college basketball. He is a terrific talent and that is great for the sport. Losing him, just like losing Mitchell Robinson or even the Ball’s (they have some talent) just hurts the overall product and their stake in the realm of competitive and commercial basketball.

Ultimately it appears Bowen will play college basketball. He or his family got their cake and if he’s patient, he’s going to eat it. When the NCAA comes down on him, what they say will just affect whether it was worth that wait. It very well may not be. No matter what the NCAA says I hope they find a resolution reasonable to all, because everyone up next is watching.


Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.barresi@uconn.edu.