By mid-morning, college basketball’s fans and writers were eyes-wide-open, mouths agape that the US Government, the Department of Justice, arrested and charged four well-known college basketball assistant coaches, the Director of Sports Marketing of major shoe company adidas, two high school/ AAU level figures and others for federal bribery, wire fraud and other charges.
No players or families have been charged by the US Department of Justice (US DOJ), though a number of players are implicated - because their acceptance of money isn’t actually a crime, it’s an NCAA violation designed to meet college basketball’s rules on amateurism. (More on that later.)
Assistants from Auburn (Chuck Person), Arizona (Emmanuel “Book” Richardson), Southern California (Tony Bland) and Oklahoma State (Lamont Evans) were named in the complaint. Along with the named shoe company, the recruitment of McDonald’s All American Brian Bowen is also mentioned; he committed to Louisville in a surprise late in the spring, over Creighton, DePaul and others.
Alleged NCAA coach bribery scheme in a nutshell pic.twitter.com/6ehTIdY1HS— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) September 26, 2017
Alleged NCAA coach bribery scheme in a nutshell pic.twitter.com/JyJJ0jeG68— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) September 26, 2017
The DOJ’s Acting Head in New York’s Southern Region, Joon Kim, noted that “a financial advisor was cooperating with the government. The SEC had brought securities fraud against him last year for misusing the athletes money.”
UPDATE: the initial cooperator has been named.
Martin Blazer, a former Pittsburgh financial adviser, who was accused of swindling $2.35 million from clients, was FBI's cooperating witness pic.twitter.com/egp9gMjEDZ— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) September 26, 2017
That advisor was the crack that led the DOJ into the underbelly of recruiting high-level athletes; and a pair of undercover FBI agents and wire taps exposed the coaches taking bribery payments.
The top line issue is that the assistant coaches accepted money to steer player choices - to the schools, to financial advisors and to other services.
Most people who have been awake to college basketball know that shoe companies steer players to certain programs.
And that high school level coaches will take payments, sometimes through non-profits (or, rumor has had it, churches) for influence over a player’s decision.
And it is known that players, in search for advice for the future, will listen to trusted coaches.
But having the whole scheme laid out and real charges explained by the US Department of Justice is a wake up call of... something.
These aren’t the NCAA’s often inept penalties, attached to institutions and more hurtful to players than to the money people or coaches.
(While it might be pleasing to say “ha! The government does what the NCAA won’t!” remember that the NCAA is a member institution, and if the members do not want to be policed in a certain way, NCAA investigators don’t have the authority to override that. Nor do they have the authority to install wire taps or set up bribery stings.
(The NCAA only has the authority to say “we will make things annoying for you to work/ play in college.” And the subjects most susceptible to that pressure are the players, who aren’t paid enough for lawyers to fight the NCAA’s assertions.)
Those who did not know that high-level basketball recruiting involved a lot of money are now “woke” to that reality.
We know these people who were caught are likely not the only ones who participate in this activity. Nor are they the only ones to be caught. The DOJ stated that "there's a lot there, as you can see... we will continue to be investigating."
The court documents indicate that a McDonald’s All American can command $100,000 or $150,000 to play at a school, money provided by the shoe company.
A number of assistant coaches are likely out of their jobs, but nothing has been announced.
But with Louisville mentioned, and with the ominous “we will continue to be investigating”, an open tip-line created by the FBI and DOJ - not to mention the NCAA violations that this investigation seems to have revealed - this scandal will hang over college basketball for a while.
Will it affect football, a sport of more anonymous names but larger sums of money, with a reputation for expensive handshakes?
What other schools will be swept into this public mess?
What sanctions will fall on head coaches, who are complicit when they “fail to monitor” that activities of coaches?
More on this from the Rumble, where we talk about the names that have touched the St. John’s program and the taint that this leaves.