Hoop Dreams Turned Nightmares

The NCAA is in foul trouble after the FBI unveiled a major corruption scheme involving coaches, players, and marketing executives.

Photo: Aaron Doster, USA TODAY Sports, (Courtesy of Google Images)

Recently, at four Division I universities, four assistant basketball coaches were arrested and charged with accepting bribes in exchange for directing players to work with clothing companies, agents, and financial advisers after they turned pro.

United States Attorney Joon H. Kim charged Chuck Person of Auburn, Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State, Emanuel “Book” Richardson of Arizona, and Anthony “Tony” Bland of Southern California with federal charges.  James “Jim” Gatto , a global marketing executive with Adidas, is accused of being part of the bribery scheme as well. If convicted, each defendant could face maximum sentences ranging from 50 to 80 years in prison. Overall, 10 different people were arrested and charged.

In my forty years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.” – Rick Pitino

The scheme alleges that the assistant coaches at the four schools would influence players to use certain financial advisers when they turned professional. Chuck Person, the former NBA star, and assistant at Auburn (University–1), obtained around $91,000 in bribe payments from a financial advisor for professional athletes. The financial advisor was also providing information to law enforcement. Person also arranged to make payments to families of players in the hopes that they would then obtain the financial advisor when the players turned professional.

Lamont Evans was involved in similar practices while he coached at two different Division I universities (identified as University–3 and University–4 in the complaint), but he only solicited around $22,000 as compared to Person’s $91,000. He was also involved in influencing the players to retain the financial advisor after they turned professional. The complaint goes on to allege much of the same for the remaining assistant coaches, Emanuel Richardson and Tony Bland.

Another scheme, allegedly led by Jim Gatto, involved funneling money from Adidas to three different players in exchange for those players commitments to play at Adidas–sponsored universities, and when they turned professional, to sign sponsorship deals with Adidas.

The second scheme did not name a player or a university, but the university has a similar description to the University of Louisville. Legendary head coach Rick Pitino was ousted just a day after the release of the FBI investigation, but Pitino maintains his innocence, stating that he has “no knowledge of payment to recruits.”

For Louisville, it is alleged that a current freshman at the university accepted a $100,000 bribe to attend. Although names are not mentioned, the details reveal that the player committed on or about June 3. If the details are correct, the only player the allegation could be referencing is elite freshman Brian Bowen. It is interesting to note that Bowen was also considering North Carolina State, another Adidas–sponsored school, at the time of his commitment.

At the time of Bowen’s commitment, Rick Pitino noted on Terry Meiners of News Radio 840 that an AAU (Amateur Athletic Association) director had called him and asked if he would be interested in Bowen. He responded, “[y]eah, I’d be really interested in Bowen.” He went on to say that they “spent zero dollars recruiting a five–star athlete who I loved when I saw him play. In my forty years of coaching, this is the luckiest I’ve been.”

In Louisville’s case, no one has been charged, but it does not look good for Rick Pitino and the others that lead the Cardinal program. A couple of years ago, the Louisville basketball program was cited for paying prostitutes to engage in sex acts with recruits when they came to campus for their recruiting visits. Although Pitino had many victories on the hardwood and multiple national championships, he will forever be linked to the scandals that were created during his tenure as the man in charge of the basketball program. Director of Athletics Tom Jurich was also placed on administrative leave as the university waits to see what will be the outcome of the charges.

Louisville, along with the universities and assistant coaches named in the charges, may not be the only Adidas–sponsored university linked with the criminal corruption. The charges give details of another university that has a similar description to the University of Miami, another violation in a long line of corruption associated with Miami sports. Miami head coach Jim Larrañaga is a successful head coach himself, and has denied being involved in the corruption scandal. No Miami coaches have been charged in the criminal complaint, but like Louisville, it does not look good for the university.

“[T]he defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of studentathletes around the country” – U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim

It is unclear what the fallout will be for the second–most popular shoe company Adidas. So far, their stock has plummeted as stockholders await to see what will happen with the scandal and how it will affect their future as a shoe company.

It is important to note that the NCAA was not notified of the investigation, nor was it aware that the FBI had an ongoing investigation into the corruption of college sports. This comes on the heels of the inefficient NCAA–led probe into an academic scandal at the University of North Carolina. Either way, the FBI releasing these charges leaves many wondering if the next attack will be on college football. After all, college football is a multi–billion dollar industry that is driven by big–time athletes and winning. Either way, federal agents are ready to crack down on the corruption throughout the NCAA landscape. It has now proven that it is not afraid to take down legendary programs, coaches, and brands.

U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim stated, “[T]he defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of student–athletes around the country, treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.” The charges wrap up what has been a multi–year investigation of the influence of money on college athletes; however, one can only believe that this is the beginning of uncovering other financial schemes within athletic programs across the country.

Multiple coaches across the country have begun to speak out against the college basketball industry. Legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K), recently recognized as the “most powerful man in college basketball” took to his platform and spoke out against was he referred to as the “basketball model.” “We don’t have a good model, a model that fits what’s happening in basketball,” said Coach K. He went on to state that “[w]e are not running this the way a billion–dollar industry should be run.”

Another Triangle–area legendary coach, Roy Williams, spoke out when he heard about the charges, stating, “I don’t think that’s what the entire college basketball world is all about. But it was a shock to me.” The case revives the issue of whether or not college athletes should be paid to play sports. In fact, many argue that corruption will continue to be in NCAA until schools can pay their players.

A majority of students will need the tools to be successful outside of sports.

Should the NCAA treat athletes more like employees and less like students? Marc Edelman from Forbes magazine argues that they should. Edelman cited several reasons in favor of paying student athletes, such as: multiple days of missing class; an average of over 40 hours spent on practice and other sport related activities; the huge revenue that athletes provide through their performance for their universities; and the marketing that university sports provide for their program. Further, he challenges readers to think about the challenges Boise State would have marketing their university without football, or Gonzaga without basketball.

While many people are in favor of paying student athletes, there are also numerous critics who believe the NCAA should continue to treat student–athletes more like students and not employees. John Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky, took an economic approach to the age–old question. He argued that granting them a $100,000 salary, instead of a $65,000 scholarship, is not as advantageous as many people think. Thelin supports his conclusion with the fact that a salary would be subject to high federal income and state taxes, which would reduce the salary to the current amount of a scholarship. As a result, the athletes would gain very little from being on a salary. In an article for CNN, Val Ackerman and Larry Scott note NCAA athletes graduate from their schools largely debt–free in a society that increasingly focuses on the increasing costs of college education. They go on to note, “college athletes are taught how to be successful in college and in life,” citing statistics such as the fact that only 3.9% of college basketball players are actually drafted into the NBA; therefore, a majority of students will need the tools to be successful outside of sports.

This is just the beginning.

It seems as if the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is ready for a change in college basketball. The one–and–done rule, created in 2005, has created a harmful atmosphere in college basketball. It was created with good intentions; many high school athletes are not ready for the strains of professional basketball. After all, they are just eighteen years old. For every player that is ready for the NBA, there are countless others that chose to forego their college careers and move to the NBA. These players were not as physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to be a part of a professional organization. Now many of these high school athletes are enticed by the lavish atmosphere that the NBA game brings with them, and they could be allowed to enter the NBA draft directly out of high school very soon.

One way to fix the corruption within basketball draft models might actually be found by shifting the focus toward baseball. Major League Baseball (MLB) allows prospects to join professional baseball teams directly out of high school, or go to college. If they choose to go to college, however, they will not be allowed to be drafted until after their junior year. One great thing about the MLB style of drafting is that high school students can be drafted and then decide whether or not they want to go to college; therefore, they know the outcome of their decision from the first day they decide to go to college. They can either: (1) sign to an MLB team and reap the monetary benefits from day one, or (2) go to college and wait a few years before they can turn professional.

It should also be noted that the MLB has an extensive Minor League system. This system assigns players of all ages and abilities to different levels and teams through their own Major League team’s organization. Since a Major League team may only have 40 players on their roster at a time (and only 25 actually traveling with them to each game), the rest of the players in their organization are spread throughout the different levels of the Minor League system. There are currently seven levels of Minor League baseball, ranging from Rookie league all the way to Triple–A.

On the other hand, the NBA does not have as extensive of a minor league basketball system. The recently renamed NBA G League, formerly the D league, allows NBA franchises to contract their players to a minor league team. NBA franchises average 14 players per team, but with the rise of the G League, teams are now creating their own minor leagues and are able to have more players available to them through the G League. If the NBA reverses the one–and–done rule, thereby allowing athletes to go to the NBA straight out of high school, and focuses on enhancing the G League, the NBA could create an enticing opportunity for athletes to go straight to the NBA.

In conclusion, the NCAA corruption scheme is just beginning to be uncovered. The charges brought against the assistant coaches will put other programs, coaches, and brands on alert. To reduce the amount of corruption in the NCAA and keep up with the pressure being placed upon these athletes, the NCAA may need to look toward allowing athletes to monetarily benefit in the sports industry. If not, the NBA may need to look toward changing the rules regarding the drafting of athletes.

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About Landis Barber (4 Articles)
Landis is a third-year student at Campbell Law and currently serves as the Managing Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. Originally from Pittsboro, North Carolina, Landis majored in History and Political Science at UNC Charlotte. The summer after his first year in law school, Landis interned at the Chatham County District Attorney's Office. This past summer, he served as an intern in the UNC Athletic Department. He is currently serving as the SBA Treasurer and Co-Director of the Peer Mentor Program. He has also been a part of the Campbell Law Trial Team. He is interested in business, corporate, and sports law.