On the night that Romeo Langford chose to spend one year, maybe two, at Indiana University, I waded my way through a pack of media who were trying to get a word with the reigning Mr. Basketball. I was not terribly interested in hearing from Romeo, though: I wanted to have a short conversation with his father, Tim, who was standing on the outskirts of the media scrum, a huge smile creasing his face.
"Why Indiana?" I asked him.
"Well, we looked at all three schools (IU, Kansas and Vanderbilt), considered who was staying and who was coming back and where he would be good fit on their team," Tim Langford told me. "One thing he (Romeo) told me was, he wants Archie (Miller) to put the ball in his hands, and good things will happen."
Now it's nearly a month later, and the Washington Post reported earlier Wednesday that Adidas, the apparel company that sponsors IU and several other big-time sports programs throughout the country, paid Tim Langford a nice sum of money to fund his AAU team, Twenty Two Vision.
It's simple and easy to make the equation: Adidas counts IU as a client. IU wanted Langford in the worst way imaginable. Adidas paid Tim Langford. And voila! Romeo ended up in Bloomington.
Now, it should be noted that Kansas is also an Adidas school, but that program is currently under a cloud of suspicion following the FBI investigation. Vanderbilt is sponsored by Nike.
Here's a snippet from the Post story:
"The way they phrased it, it was (whichever shoe company) was going to pay the dad's AAU team the most money, gets it," (disgraced former Louisville coach Rick) Pitino told the Post. A few days later, Adidas' league added a new team: Twenty Two Vision, featuring Romeo Langford on the court and Tim Langford as team director. Shoe company sponsorships can reach $100,000 to $150,000 and team directors who limit expenses can pay themselves salaries from those amounts.
"That's the way the world works," Pitino told the Post. "Which is completely legal, by the way."
After Romeo selected IU to continue his basketball career (and some studies), Archie Miller was praised here and elsewhere for making good on his promise to put a fence around the state of Indiana. And true, Miller and his staff deserve credit for playing catch-up and making themselves a late player in the national recruiting war for the mega-talented Langford.
You know what, though? It was pretty easy. Or it looks now like it was pretty easy. They put in the work, made the necessary inroads, but when push came to shove, Adidas was Miller's best recruiter. While Miller could promise growth on the basketball floor, Adidas could offer something more valuable to the Langford family: Cold, hard cash.
Now understand, to the best of our current knowledge, none of this is illegal – at least not based on what was reported by the Post.
Nor does it appear to violate any NCAA rules, where there exists this giant gray area that allows shoe companies to work directly (um, pay) recruits' families.
It is, however, a little bit dirty. OK…a lot dirty.
And IU fans better get used to it. While Miller was not directly named in relation to this payment, the fact is, the new coaching staff is willing to swim in these murky waters. This is the way recruitment works. The shoe company pays off the recruits' families and then the recruit gets steered to the shoe company's member schools. Quid pro quo.
- RELATED: New Albany star Langford picks IU
Say what you will about Tom Crean, who struck out or refused to even play the game when it came to top-echelon recruits, but the former coach was disinclined to navigate the nether world of college hoops recruiting. In the end, it was one of the reasons why he is no longer employed at IU. Athletic director Fred Glass wants to be a national player, and the only way to do that is to work the shadow economy that exists in the world of recruiting.
This has happened before, hundreds, even thousands of times, and it's been happening for decades, ever since the shoe companies got involved in big-time college athletics.
Nike paid then-recruit Marvin Bagley III's father to fund his AAU teams. Nike is a Duke school. Bagley III, who will be a top five draft choice in the upcoming NBA Draft, attended Duke for his one and only year. Bagley was not suspended, nor did Duke get in any trouble with the NCAA.
In 2010, however, Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney, another big-name recruit, was suspended because his father couldn't account fully for the money he received from a Reebok-sponsored foundation.
It's a seamy business, but it's the game you have to play if you want to grab top recruits.
Look, Langford didn't choose IU because he loves the candy-stripes or because he foresees a future of languid afternoons down at Dunn Meadow. That's not reality, especially for recruits (and recruits' families) who feel they are fully entitled to some of the riches that circulate through college athletics. (That's another column for another time).
I just have to laugh now, thinking back to the words of the Langford's family preacher, who stood at the lectern at New Albany High School and told the audience about the importance of character.
"Let me hear you!" he yelled.
He should have spelled a different word.