The Madness Continues in College Basketball

Former Adidas representatives are the first to be handed verdicts in the college basketball corruption trial.

Image: Sporting News, (Courtesy of Google Images)

On October 24, 2018, the jury returned a verdict in the college basketball corruption trial. The jury determined that Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and agent Christian Dawkins were each guilty on all counts of committing wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

“Now, the purpose of this trial is not to determine whether the NCAA amateurism rules are good or bad. It has nothing to do with it.” – U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to defense counsel Michael Schachter

The verdict is the culmination of a long year for the defendants that began in September 2017, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation charged several executives and coaches with connections to a corruption scheme that shook the college basketball world.

Jury selection for the case began in early October and the government focusedon the defendant’s roles in funneling payments to former N.C. State players Dennis Smith Jr., Former Kansas player Billy Preston, and former Louisville commit Brian Bowen. At the time, the potential jurors were provided with a list of schools that could potentially come up at trial. Those schools included Kansas, Miami, Arizona, North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, and Louisville. Moreover, jurors were selected on the hopes that they would not have a predisposed opinion regarding NCAA rules and regulations.

During opening statements, Gatto’s attorney admittedthat the Adidas executive had paid the Dennis Smith Jr.’s family $40,000 to play basketball at North Carolina State. Moreover, Gatto’s attorney attempted to focus the attention on Under Armor by mentioning that Under Armor had paid $20,000 for  Silvio De Sousa to commit to Maryland, and $150,000 for Nassir Little to commit to Arizona. Neither recruit enrolled at said universities. Instead, Silvio De Sousa is enrolled at Kansas and is currently serving a suspensionwhile his eligibility is reviewed by the university stemming from evidence presented at trial allegedly involving Kansas’ Athletic Director Sean Lester and an Adidas executive. On the other hand, Nassir Little is thriving on the hardwood as a freshman at North Carolina. Further, Gatto’s attorneys attempted to argue that the issue in the case was the problems regarding the NCAA’s bureaucratic practices. Similarly, those practices have put money in the pockets of those who work for the NCAA and kept money from the student-athletes. U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan was swift to interject and focus the court on the issue of whether the defendant had broken the law.

“What, if anything, did you know about the payment of approximately $40,000 to the father of Dennis Smith Jr. in connection with Smith Jr’s decision to attend N.C. State University?” – United States assistant district attorney Noah Solowiejczyk to N.C. State compliance director Carrie Doyle

Debbie Yow, athletic director at North Carolina State, released a statement reinforcing the athletic department’s belief that they have complied with NCAA rules and that they will continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office. On the same hand, N.C. State compliance director Carrie Doyle testifiedthat she did not know of any payment made to Dennis Smith’s father, nor Dennis Smith himself.  She went on to testify that if they had known about any sort of payment, Dennis Smith would not have received a scholarship from N.C. State.

Later, the government seized the opportunity to question their key witnessT.J. Gassnola. Gassnola, a former Adidas consultant, provided information concerning all three defendants, Gatto, Code, and Dawkins. In March, Gassnola pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and signed a cooperation agreement in exchange for his testimony. Gassnola testified that he was working with Gatto, Code, and Dawkins to conceal payments to families of student athletes. Specifically, he mentioned concealing payments to the families of Brian Bowen, Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa, Dennis Smith, and Deandre Ayton.

“Hall of Fame. When you have 5 minutes and your [sic] alone call me.” – T.J. Gassnola to Bill Self.

The government went on to present text messages between the Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola and hall of fame basketball coach Bill Self. The texts did not reveal evidence of specific prices for players but did reveal ongoing communications between the consultant and coach. Gassnola was mostly in contact with Coach Self regarding payments to Silvio De Sousa, but he frequently reiterated that Coach Self did not know of any payments to De Sousa nor Billy Preston.

Unlike Kansas, North Carolina and their star freshman Nassir Little had a smoother day when their names were brought up in examination. The text messages shown in court indicate that Little’s family refused to accept any payments from Adidas representatives. More specifically, texts between Dawkins and Little’s former basketball coach Brad Augustine specifically state, “[t]hat’s the issue with him going to an Adidas school because the family isn’t taking it.” The Little family has frequently stated that they were not involved in any pay-to-play scheme. While this is not definitive evidence that they did not receive any payments, the evidence does support their assertions.

Duke’s star freshman Zion Williamson was mentioned in a defense examination. According to the defense, Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend discussed financial requests between Williamson’s family and Merl Code. The defense attempted to enter in transcripts of the phone call, but the attempt was ultimately unsuccessful. However, they were able to enter in a piece indicating that Townsend knew Zion Williamson was asking for cash and housing. Afterward, Duke vice president and director of athletics, Kevin White, released a statement reiterating that Duke has complied with all NCAA Eligibility requirements and that they will continue to comply with any requirements in the future.

“I should’ve said, ‘For me, I went to West Point. I was an army officer for five year. I call it a blip on the radar screen of college basketball and that doesn’t mean that that blip is not a serious thing. We should look at it real close.” – Coach Mike Krzyzewski explaining why he referred to the infractions as a “blip” on the sport.

Legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke out against the corruption trialstating that the scandal was a “blip” on the radar of college basketball. However, when Coach K was given the opportunity to clarify his comments, he indicated that college basketball is “pretty clean” overall and he apologized for seeming to downplay the answer.

In conclusion, this could only be the beginning of many other trials and verdicts involving college basketball corruption. In February, former Auburn assistant coach Church Person and former NBA referee Rashan Michel will have their days in court. Person is accused of persuading players to be involved in the pay-to-play scheme. Other former assistant coaches are scheduled for trial in April. In other words, the madness may continue well beyond March.

Landis Barber
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.