Currently, the clouds surrounding college basketball obscure the shining moments.

FBI investigations. Wiretaps. Payments from agents to players. Widespread corruption among Power 5 programs.

It's a bigtime mess, one in which NCAA officials may have to hit the delete button and rewrite a lot of the rule book.

University of Central Arkansas coach Russ Pennell, who has coached at the highest levels of college basketball, related some of his observations at Monday's Bearbackers luncheon.

Pennell's take is important because, first and foremost, he embraces and values integrity.

"I’m embarrassed for people I know and have called friends," he said "Some if the stuff they’re doing. It is wrong, I think it is the tip of the iceberg."

He is proud of UCA and his program for its commitment to doing things the right way.

"We do it the right way because my name won't be plastered all over the TV and my daughter looks me in the eye and says, ‘Dad, you’re a cheater.' I’ve never cheated one time since I’ve been a coach (28 years), never been tempted to. I did not want any you (fans),  family and my friends to ever look at me in a different way.’”

Pennell's view is also relevant because he has played, coached and recruited at the major D I level with schools that are highly ranked or have contended for a national championsihp.

The fourth-year  UCA coach also has a knack for breaking down the big picture and putting the fragments into perspective.

So, where are things headed?

Guaranteed, there are nervous coaches all over America. The FBI is showing its hand gradually.

"I think it is headed for reform," he said. "What that looks like, I don’t know. Personally, my biggest concern is the Power 5’s don’t say to heck with the NCAA— we’ll do our own thing. And I think that is a strong possibility.

"They say there are as many as 50 different schools involved. None are at the mid-major level. There are 85 schools in the Power 5 (major conferences).

"CBS is not gonna hold and broadcast the NCAA tourney with 50 teams on probation.

"And I’m a little concerned that they say it is overwhelming so let’s blow it up and try again. But that’s not fair to everybody."

He believes that if players only view college as a showcase point for the pros, let them be pros.

"If they really want to fix this, they ought to let kids go to the pros out of high school," he said. "You’re only talking about 25 or so kids. Take those kids, slot them into a pay scale and put them in the G-League. And wait until they’re 19. The,  just bump them up (to the NBA), which is what major league baseball does.

"And if you do go to college, you’ve got to stay two years, no more one and done. It will be like getting a junior college player.  If they want to throw them (the players) a bone, maybe in January of their sophomore year they get to sign with an agent and get some advance money up front. They only have three more months to play anyway."

Pennell is firmly against paying players.

"Our kids here have been given an opportunity to play," he said. " The Farris Center — they didn’t pay for that. The bus we took the other day, they didn’t pay for that. They didn’t pay for the uniforms. What they get here is the chance to apprentice. And if they get their game right, maybe they get an opportunity to go to the pros.

"It would be like any other curriculum where you leave with a chance to get a job and rise to the level of your abilities.

"If kids want to get paid, let them turn pro. They do it in golf, in tennis and every other sport except basketball.”

 Things get complicated because laws in many states are different concerning agents or there is no law at all. Often, the agents dangle enticements in front of the parents. Much work is done in the shadows.

Pennell said his star, Jordan Howard, who is as high-character and as firmly grounded in a family environment as you'll find, has had calls from agents in various states, all legal.

"Those guys (agents) I like because they come through the front door," he said. "What I don’t want Jordan saying is, ‘there are some guys hanging out at my dorm. ...’

"Stuff about  players accused are not necessarily goes back to the college coaches. A lot of it came from wiretaps and ledgers. That doesn’t necessarily mean coaches know about that. “

 He remembers coaching at Power 5 schools

“When I was at the higher level, you’d look for signs,  he said. 

"We would notice if a player started wearing some expensive clothes. Sometimes, we would  drive by the guy’s apartment to see what was parked outside. Whether it was something that may be that player's car or a rental car that indicated somebody was visiting."

Bottom line?

"I hope they don’t overreact and blow it up and say  it’s just an arms race and t here is a salary cap in college and all that stuff," he said." I hope they (the top programs) don’t secede from the NCAA.”


"If they [the top players] want to go [immediately] go pro , we don't want them. We don't want them in college basketball."

Sports editor David McCollum can be  reached at Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd.