College basketball’s corrupt house of cards is crumbling. This week’s federal complaints revealed what the New York Times called, “a thriving black market for teenage athletes, one in which coaches, agents, financial advisors and shoe company employees trade on the trust of players and exploit their ability to be openly compensated because of NCAA amateurism rules.”
The indictments allege fraud and bribery by a sports agent, financial adviser, four assistant coaches, a top Adidas executive—ten people in all. They’re accused of conspiring to use as much as $150,000 in Adidas money to pay top high school basketball recruits and their families so the players would attend schools affiliated with the shoe company.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, but a read of the indictments shows the feds have these guys dead to rights. A cooperating witness taped multiple conversations where the defendants were heard conspiring to make the bribes and exchange cash.
According to the indictment, one of the payoffs happened in a Morgantown hotel last February when Oklahoma State was in town for a game against WVU. Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans allegedly received $4,000 from the cooperating witness to set up a meeting with a Cowboy player.
Veteran CBS Sports reporter Dennis Dodd said rumors of these kinds of arrangements have been circulating for some time. “We—media, administrators, some fans—all knew some form of graft that was alleged Tuesday has been going on for years. If a college basketball program could land just one guy, it could turn things around. Same for an apparel company. We just couldn’t prove it.”
Certainly the NCAA was no help. If pay-for-play at some schools was a poorly kept secret, why didn’t the association that is supposed to oversee college athletics do something; because the N.C.A.A takes a see-no-evil approach.
But now the United States Justice Department with its power and prestige is fully engaged. People are going to jail. And as Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim emphasized at a press conference Tuesday, the investigation is ongoing. One obvious lead is revealed in a taped conversation where the defendants discuss the possibility of Adidas being outbid by another unidentified apparel company for a bribe to a high school player.
The scandal will lead to an appropriate and necessary debate over compensation for college athletes and allowing basketball players to go directly from high school to the NBA. Additionally, college and university presidents must reassert their control over athletic programs rather than kowtowing to coaches.
But notably Kim has no opinion on those matters; he’s focused on the crimes committed in college basketball. “If you violate the law, we’re going to investigate it and prosecute you,” he said.
Based on the compelling information in the indictments, that’s exactly what’s needed. College basketball first needs to be scrubbed clean and disinfected before you can determine how it should look in the future.