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College basketball returns, only this time with a shiny black eye

Think of this college basketball season like living in Oregon.

You’re home to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the United States, gorgeous landscapes and charming cosmopolitan cities, a canvas of big skies and open spaces and endless green acreage.

And yet all the wonderment and double-doubles and half-court shots and incredible upsets come with a price.

The sport has never had so much doom and gloom fall directly on its head.

It’s raining hard, man. Cats and dogs and cheaters alike.

The games will be played and the drama will again electrify fans across the country and UCLA players will be more educated in China’s socialist law than ever imagined, all again concluding with the madness come March.

Nothing has changed, and yet everything has.

The corrupt and dishonest culture that has defined college basketball for decades has finally (thankfully) been shoved from the shadows and into plain view for all to see, the result of an FBI investigation into charges of fraud and bribery that this week resulted in the indictment of eight men by a grand jury in New York.

Two other defendants also arrested in the Sept. 29 roundup across different states have yet to meet that same fate, which probably means they’re singing to the feds like Adele when the curtain rises.

You can bet some of the others are also warming up their vocal cords.

You can boast all you want about going down with the ship, but attitudes tend to change when the water level reaches your neck.

It all makes for an intense and nervous season for many coaches, because if you think the federal government has its sights set solely on assistants from Auburn and Arizona and Southern California and Oklahoma State, well, you also probably view the Mountain West as a multiple-bid conference.

I’m sure in the eyes of those chasing the cheaters, something like Louisville coach Rick Pitino being fired amid the scandal is the sort of big fish of which they want more.

An unsealed indictment on Wednesday alleged Pitino not only knew about a plan to send payments to recruit Brian Bowman, but actively participated in it.

Gee, ya think?

The Golden Knights are also off to a good start for an expansion team.

“I don’t think anybody knows how widespread (the investigation) will be,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “I think everybody that has had boots on the ground, been around the game knows that there are things going on that are against NCAA rules.

“Do I think that those that are charged thus far and those that have been indicted, do I think that’s the end of it? No. Do I think that this is going to touch every program in the country? No, I don’t. But it will be news whenever something comes out, whenever there’s additional charges brought or information comes out where someone is ruled ineligible or a coach is suspended or fired.”

So this is what the season and perhaps future ones will include, this sort of menacing cloud hanging overhead ready to burst open with more findings, more arrests, more firings, more indictments.

My suggestion would be to enjoy the games and players and captivating storylines that always seem to lift spirits and electrify our fondness for the sport, all the while remaining logical enough not to be surprised if those you cheer most eventually find themselves caught up in the current mess.

Do you have a favorite team? Good.

Guess what? It cheats.

At some level, at some point, be it the most minor of violations or the most appalling of infractions, it has broken rules. That’s college basketball, then and now and probably always.

How much change for the better this FBI probe will create is anyone’s guess, but it could be a hoot watching some head coaches work this season with one black eye on the court and the other behind their back.

So take a deep breath, let the games begin and hope you don’t see dudes dressed like Eliot Ness hanging around your arena/program of choice.

Already this week, we learned about some Georgia Tech players taking impermissible benefits and three from UCLA allegedly stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in China, perhaps to use as prototype for the next overpriced Big Baller Brand item.

Welcome back, college basketball.

That’s one hell of a shiner.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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