It’s very rarely good when college sports make it into the news during its offseason in any capacity. This is usually the case on a small level — a player getting suspended, a coach getting fired, a team learning it is placed under some kind of sanction, whatever it may be.
But as we learned on Tuesday, that can sometimes go beyond individuals or teams. Instead, it can attack an entire institution. In this specific case, the institution of recruiting in college basketball came under fire.
Four college basketball coaches — Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans, Auburn’s Chuck Person, Arizona’s Emanuel Richardson, and USC’s Tony Bland — are implicated and charged in a corruption scheme. It is important to indicate that these are not NCAA issues, these charges were announced by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon H. Kim and Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the FBI William F. Sweeney.
In fact, according to Kim, the investigation began in 2015 and the NCAA didn’t even know this was going to happen.
Per ESPN, each coach faces up to 80 years in prison for “bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes, honest services fraud conspiracy, honest service fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and Travel Act conspiracy.” These are not the occasional small charge, these are legitimately huge deals that can change the way that college basketball functions.
How? By blowing up the current recruiting system. Why? Because this goes beyond just a few coaches sliding some recruits money or something. Here’s a graphic that was prominently on display during Kim’s presentation.
That first graphic explains the coach bribery scheme, which is fairly simple. A group of people with money — Dawkins is an ex-NBA agent, Sood is a financial advisor, and Michel worked for a clothing company — would move that to coaches, who would try and get players, then push said players to the people who provided the coaches with money at some point. This is what most people think of when they hear “NCAA bribery scandal.”
But what makes this such a huge deal is that graphic on the right. The name on top is Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for Adidas. The other two names with him — Code and Augustine — are also involved with Adidas, either directly (Code was the former director Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball who recently joined the company) or indirectly (Augustine is the president of a program sponsored by Adidas called The League Initiative).
That graphic shows that Adidas — or, rather, people involved with Adidas — would give players money to commit to division one programs. Said programs would give players scholarships (duh), and kids would commit to working with a group of managers. Oh, and then Adidas would give sponsorship deals to programs. So basically, Adidas was pushing kids to their schools and then had the school set them up with Dawkins and Sood.
If you made a movie about all of this and sold this exact script to Hollywood, it would get rejected for being way too on the nose. Something that Jonathan Givony tweeted before the hearing sums it up nicely.
The belief that shoe companies, which hold a ton of influence in the world of college hoops, were using their influence to impact recruiting has been around forever. With how AAU and sneaker company-sponsored camps are such an important part of the game, it almost seemed crazy that we’ve never had a massive, NCAA-centric scandal in which one of the biggest sneaker companies on earth got implicated for getting greedy.
But let’s face it: The NCAA has zero incentive to police this. It has always had zero incentive to police this. And if you are of the belief that dirty recruiting is so widespread that it happens all over the country, cracking down on this would be such a massive undertaking (not to mention a massive PR hit) that it’s not worth investing the time and resources to go after dirty programs and then explain why this didn’t happen sooner.
So if anything was ever going to happen to inspire change, it was going to come from a place that does not care about anything but making sure laws are followed and does not have any vested interest in the way the NCAA is perceived. The United States government is the perfect body to take this on — if, of course, you agree that going after the institution of recruiting in college basketball requires a sea of change. Full disclosure: I think the whole “teenagers are essentially forced to put off getting paid for a year while administrators, coaches, etc. line their pockets” thing is morally disgusting, so I generally approve of them getting paid any way they can. (For more on this, head to the SB Nation team site that takes on these issues better than anyone, Crimson Quarry.)
One day after this, change happened in the form of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino losing his job. Louisville is an Adidas school, and Gatto allegedly helped funnel $100,000 to convince a recruit to play for the Cardinals. In exchange, that recruit, who was not named, was expected to sign with the second-largest shoe company on earth once he became a professional.
Pitino denied wrongdoing, but it is really hard to make the case that he had no idea this was happening. Here was the statement he released on Tuesday.
It read one of two ways. Either Pitino had zero idea what was happening in his program (which is grounds to fire him for losing control of things, especially after he used this defense to protect himself during the last Louisville hoops scandal), or he is trying to divert attention away from himself because he was guilty. Either way, Pitino is now out of a job.
If this was big enough to take down one of the most highly-successful college basketball coaches to ever live — let alone a handful of assistants at other major programs and a massive name in the sneaker industry — this has the potential to run really, really deep. The investigation is still ongoing, and the expectation is it will, as Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel wrote that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Taking on the institution of recruiting in college basketball, where the right collection of recruits can literally bring in millions of dollars in revenue to a program, is no small task. With how deep the federal government is making it sound like this investigation may go, it could change the landscape of college hoops recruiting forever.