I’ll admit to being embarrassingly psyched about the beginning of the college basketball season; I spent much of what should’ve been a work day earlier this week alternating between non-paying writing work (good for me) and college basketball games between Penn and Drexel and Centenary and Baylor (not really good for anyone but lovers of missed foul shots). But as with any sort of morally ambiguous material consumption — from Wendy’s to anything NFL-branded — there’s an element of guilt about it.

Caricatured liberal guilt maybe, to some, but for me it’s more just this painful awareness that something I love dearly and am probably not going to stop loving (note: I’m talking about sports, not Wendy’s, now) is pretty fucked in a lot of ways. And that continuing to consume it will entail continuing to overlook a bunch of really not-cool things about it. It’s not that hard, really, but it’s increasingly on my mind.

So, did reading Dana O’Neil’s full-spectrum, impressively sourced piece at ESPN.com on the bleeding edge of recruiting dodginess in college basketball recruiting make me feel good? Not really, Hannity: not all of us goony leftists are into picking psychic scabs. But it was, at least, interesting to see the way the corrupt-recruiting game has changed since I was a kid, and to see how weedy creeps like Kentucky’s Billy Gillespie — and whole program’s, like Kansas State’s — are gaming the system. In short, shoeboxes of cash are out, and well-paying taxpayer-funded jobs for players’ family members, coaches and fixers (sometimes one person is all three) are in. “Why break a rule and buy a kid a hamburger,” O’Neil writes, “when you can obey a rule and buy his coach?”

Glance down a college bench sometime. Count the number of people in uniform. And then count the number of men in suits. You’ll find less sartorial splendor on Wall Street.

Administrative assistants, video coordinators, director of recruiting, assistant director of recruiting — you need a job on a college staff, it can be created, titled and filled. And the job requirements are the same as they are worldwide: It’s all about who you know.

When Doug Overton left the Saint Joe’s bench for the NBA this year, (Coach Phil) Martelli (above)  found himself in the market for an assistant coach. “I had four or five guys call me and say, ‘Hey if you hire me, I can deliver this guy,'”  Martelli said. “It made my skin crawl.”

Coaches like to argue the chicken or the egg question — which came first, the recruit or his parent/handler/strength coach/travel team coach/Svengali? — but there’s no doubt so-called package deals smell like rotten eggs.

Michael Beasley was supposed to go to Charlotte, and in fact, had given Bobby Lutz a verbal commitment. But when Beasley’s former DC Assault coach, Dalonte Hill, left Lutz’s bench for a similar assistant’s job at Kansas State, Beasley went with him. Beasley went on to become the player of the year and Hill the associate head coach at K-State, to the tune of $400,000 a year.

Now the nation’s capital to Little Apple train is chugging along smoothly. Three other former DC Assault players (Jamar Samuels, Dominique Sutton and Ron Anderson) are on the current roster. Two more (Wally Judge and Rodney McGruder) signed letters of intent last week and will join the Wildcats next season. And DC Assault point guard Daryl Trayhnam, a member of the Class of 2010, has K-State on his short list.

For more on the surpassingly lawless Big 12, some nicely salty quotes from Martelli, and a confirmation of your general creeping sense that nothing at all in college sports is aboveboard, read the whole thing. Thanks to Brendan Flynn for the link.