FBI probe exposes ‘dark underbelly’ of NCAA basketball

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in Wednesday’s print edition of The Herald-Times.

The college basketball world was rocked Tuesday by the announcement of a federal investigation into corruption in the sport.

Four college assistant coaches from Arizona, Southern California, Oklahoma State and Auburn were among 10 people arrested on federal charges after they were caught accepting cash bribes for directing basketball prospects toward agents, advisers and apparel companies.

From here, the far-reaching implications aren’t clear. Change in college athletics has seldom come quickly, but make no mistake, Tuesday marked a watershed in how the sport proceeds.

“This revelation by the FBI exposes the dark underbelly of college basketball, which I have noted is the most corrupt of all sports,” Gerald Gurney told The Herald-Times by phone Tuesday. Gurney is past president of the Drake Group, a think tank aiming to defend higher education from the corruption of college sports.

“This concept of amateur athletics that the NCAA is attempting to describe, or is attempting to define for the American public, is a myth. It’s an absolute myth. I’m so happy that the FBI, who can subpoena witnesses and has some real investigative power, are finally involved.”

The NCAA was not made aware of the federal investigation until Tuesday. By that point, Auburn assistant coach and former Indiana Pacers star Chuck Person, Arizona assistant Emmanuel Richardson, Southern California’s Tony Bland and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans had all been arrested on federal corruption charges.

Also among those arrested is James Gatto, the director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas.

Although Indiana University is one of the athletic departments contractually linked with Adidas, there is no evidence at this time implicating IU in any wrongdoing.

“We are aware of the ongoing federal investigation involving college basketball,” IU athletic department spokesperson Jeremy Gray said. “We do not have, nor have been given, any reason to believe Indiana University is involved in any way.”

Tuesday was believed to be merely the tip of the iceberg in a historic, two-year probe that began with a cooperating witness at the center of a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation telling federal investigators he had past involvement in corruption in college basketball. The unidentified witness was then used in the undercover FBI operation to unearth the seedy side of the sport.

“Is this going to open up a Pandora’s box? It could,” Seth Greenberg told The Herald-Times. Greenberg is an ESPN basketball analyst and former head coach at Virginia Tech. “If I’m a head coach, here’s what I’m doing today. I’m bringing my staff in, I’m bringing in my compliance director and I’m bringing in my senior athletic director who oversees my sport.

“I’m just sitting there saying, ‘All right, does anyone have anything to tell me?’ I’m putting it right on the table. ‘Is there something I need to know?’ At least that way you’re opening up the door. I think that’s really important.”

Meanwhile, the University of Louisville acknowledged Tuesday that it is involved in the federal investigation. Although the university is not mentioned by name in the criminal complaint filed in the U.S. Attorney’s office in southern New York, a series of allegations seems to point to a school that matches Louisville’s description.

In one case included in the complaint, Gatto and others are alleged to have funneled $100,000 to the family of a high school standout to secure his commitment to Louisville. As part of the deal, the high school player would later sign with Adidas once he turned professional, according to the complaint.

Although the player was not named, several details in the complaint indicate that it was Brian Bowen, an All-American wing who played at La Lumiere, a prep school in northern Indiana. Bowen was an Indiana target early in his high school career, but that recruitment never seemed to gain traction.

Louisville, like IU, is an Adidas program.

“The shoe companies in general are not investing money in grassroots basketball because of the goodness of their heart,” Greenberg told The Herald-Times, speaking in broad terms about recruiting. “They’re investing money in grassroots basketball to develop relationships and trust with the best prospects. They’re investing money in grassroots basketball to funnel money through to people to get them to go to their schools and to develop brand identity with the best players. How do you change that? I don’t know.”

Although Gatto, an Adidas executive, is charged in the probe, this is not a problem that rests solely with that company. Auburn is outfitted by Under Armour, while Arizona, USC and Oklahoma State are outfitted by Nike.

“We have these apparel companies who have enormous influence over the conduct of not only basketball, but intercollegiate athletics in general,” Gurney said by phone. “The NCAA and its leadership, including college presidents, are miserable failures at controlling college sports. … Change must occur here and it begins with replacing the NCAA. I think this is a clear illustration that they don’t have a clue. Or, if they have a clue, they’re misleading the American people.”

36 comments

  1. The hoops implosion discussion belongs here.

    More news. If true, Arizona is the next one to fall. $150k paid to Nassir Little.

    Now we have two hoops blue bloods who will be facing the death penalty. Nike just got subpoenaed. This is going to blow college basketball into oblivion.

    https://www.azdesertswarm.com/basketball/2017/9/27/16376992/arizona-wildcats-basketball-allegedly-offered-recruit-150000-fbi-documents-charges-book-richardson

    We better hope to God that Archie Miller has kept his nose clean.

    1. DD, “college basketball” is a lot more than a super recruit at Louisville and another at AZ. Cut the hyperbole and keep insisting upon full criminal investigation by the FBI; full and rapid penalties by the NCAA and/or a new, empowered, investigatory organization. Do not stop until the last cheater is revealed publicly!

      1. BP, you think this is only a couple of bad actors?

        I’d love it if that were true. My analysis of the situation sees something that is endemic across the board. To varying degrees, of course. But all programs are affected. Arian Foster admitted to taking money when he was playing at Tenn, he just never got caught.

        Anyway, this entire situation is being driven by like 5% of players. But, they are the ones that put butts in seats, hang banners and help solidify the contract of the coaches they play for. They are also the ones that bring down entire programs.

        Careful what you wish for. One of those “cheaters” you want revealed was an assistant under Crean. And it was the time that Crean was getting his best talent.

  2. The NCAA goes after Kelvin and his 3-way calling habit with utmost expediency on the eve of the NCAA tournament…..Meanwhile, years of delays after delays have continued to push UNC’s decades-long creation of ghost classes for athletes off the priority list.

    Now the FBI finally exposes what the NCAA has long protected; the white collar criminals who run college basketball like a mafia family.

  3. Heavy jail time will clean this up in a hurry. Thinking of these coaches being arrested and hauled off to jail triggered some old memories of when authorities came looking for Todd Leary right in the middle of broadcasting an IU game….
    None of these men will ever be the same. This sort of mess imparts very hard connections onto the synapses of memory cells. And has been stated, there are likely more lives to be turned upside down. Many white collar and clean living men with stellar standing in their communities may soon get to know Anthony Weiner.

  4. I U has shoe money , where is it distributed? Does the money have any fiscal control outside the Athletic Department? How do these assistant basketball coaches operate with no apparent control or supervision of the Coach or Athletic Director? Did the Shoe Companies do tax reporting(1099’s) on the money paid to these assistants? Looks like there may be a big tax problem for all this undercover money paid like the parent’s and the players also being ruled as professional athletics and losing their college eligibility. NCAA’s existence as a control body looks REAL WEAK.

  5. Fine article Mike.

    I have never trusted or had use for either the shoe companies or AAU.
    Too many sharks in the water at both places.
    I could see it clearly, and I’m not even close to the recruiting scene.
    It would seem my concerns in these two fine entities were very well justified.

    This could very well lead to the NCAA simply going away.
    I’m with I U South on that.

  6. The NCAA is the worst cartel in the history of cartels.

    But while they’re an inconsistent, bureaucratic, fecal-matter for brains mess, they are also a rational actor. They chase the money and there is no competition. There are billions and billions flowing through the NCAA and then through its member institutions. Yet, who is it that puts butts in seats? How come coaches like Calipari and Pitino don’t get under the table money from the shoe companies? That’s because they are already getting paid at market value legally. If the NCAA had some dumb rule capping coaching salaries, they’d be in the gravy train line, too.

    AAU and the apparel companies are just taking advantage of market inefficiencies.

    Love Bilas’s take on it today:

    http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/20841877/until-ncaa-solves-money-problem-pays-athletes-problems-continue

  7. I can’t watch Jay Bilas on a full stomach. It’s sort of a Duke-puke reaction. Jay(Jason) Williams causes the same reaction.

    Paying amateur athletes is an obscene idea. If you didn’t force the top prospects to spend one season in college, then their stage would evaporate. When the stage evaporates, nobody gives a rat’s ass who they are in high school. It is college hype, college rankings, nationally televised college games, the youthful excitement around college campuses, and March Madness that fuels the hunger to bribe these kids before they get to college. It is college that now builds most of the excitement into every new NBA season via the hyped draft night…along with the weeks/months preceding when the questions about draft status/one-and-done/mock drafts become more important than any team.

    Allow again these inflated head phenoms to go straight to the NBA out of high school. Let the NBA deal with the immaturity and narcissism they infect upon the college game.
    Once in college, you must stay in a minimum of two years. Why on earth should college sports be so infected by the few who get to the NBA? It is the attention of those few…and the systems/dollars built into their continual hype machines that has built the “black market.”
    Nobody would give a crap if what shoes they were wearing without the college stage.

  8. And why not have college basketball represent the best in American society represented by the huge divide between rich and poor?
    I’m all for the guy in the suit and tie on the sideline getting 30 million(just like a top executive) while the sweating workers(players) get $9.00/hr for doing a factory-like job that doesn’t take any brains.
    How much brains does it take to put a ball through a basket? I’m surprised they are lucky enough to have four years of paid college along with some fool willing to give them “black market” dollars.
    The tiny percentage who win the lottery to play in the NBA is no different than the poor working slob who has no healthcare getting a winning lottery ticket at the local Speedway. College sports/basketball represents the American divide to perfection. The NBA is for those who somehow scaled the walls built to keep everyone not a “professional” and in suit and tie from having a decent standard of living.

    Strange how we are so outraged of such divides in wealth for something barely on the fringes of a nation’s productivity and vitality while all of America rots(including our inner cities) in the rubble of decades of inequity built on the same “black market” business models/mentality.
    A boardroom is the epitome of a black market system where all meet to keep profits away from the masses who sweat, dive, jump(off of buildings), set screens for incompetent bosses, and run their guts out for the good of the “team” that has no slice of pie(other than a trophy) at the end of day.

    I love college ball because it represents all the same abuses of our entire society. If I can;t relate to those same inequities, why on earth would I care? I can’t rage against my CEO getting parachute packages, stock options, millions in salary while I’m kept away from that one mysterious room with ladder to the top…..Why would I want to watch 18-year-old kids get into a room full of money that I have never seen for years of busting my ass for the team?
    And I actually help an economy by getting boxes out the door…Many of these phenoms want millions and they don’t even know how to ‘box out.’

    1. We will have more, but here’s what Archie Miller had to say in his opening statement at IU Media Day Thursday about the FBI investigation into college basketball:

      “I’m as surprised as anyone, just like 99 percent of the basketball world about what is going on. I’ve had very little information other than what you guys have. I’ll probably stay away from commenting on the actual facts. When it comes to Arizona, obviously very prideful there with my family, and I’ve been able to talk to Sean only one time very briefly to add my support.

      That brings it back to Indiana. Obviously, as a staff and myself, we’ve met with Fred (Glass) multiple times and we’ve talked about a lot of things and have no reason to think that Indiana is involved in anything right now. We’re focused on the task, so to speak, at hand of running this program, which was clearly defined on day one as doing things the right way.”

    2. You are fantasizing on an ideal that no longer exists. So you, and most other fans, continue to stick your head in the sand.

      Calling hypocrisy in board rooms is just a misdirection and doesn’t solve the problem of money in college basketball (and football).

      Your moral outrage provides further cover for the nefarious underbelly that will continue to thrive under this complete fallacy of “amateurism.”

      1. You are right, football will end up having greater numbers than what we are seeing in basketball. When the football investigation gets going, you will see bigger programs than those in basketball. Could be interesting.

          1. DD-Glad to have you in frenzied posting mode. Chet was right….We can expect quite the curtailing of activity here.

            I guess I am quite the idealist…Somehow I always wanted to believe it was the backroom black market deals that put a 5th foul on Downing instead of Walton.
            I’m sure your California neighbors would like to see that as not a very practical truth.

        1. I doubt there will be much of a similar investigation in football. It’s more of a team sport and the “shoe market” isn’t nearly the same gig as it is in basketball. Individual players in a sport with helmets and very strict uniform rules just don’t have the same marketing impact as those in the free styling NBA where individuals can dominate games and be on camera at all times.

      2. I’m all for it…Pay 18-year-old kids a couple hundred thousand to play college ball. Watch how well that works when a coach tries to get them to grab one measly board.
        You are the one living in fantasy on behalf of promoting even more outrageous narcissism into the college game. Good luck on drawing students smothered in mountains of college debt to that sort of bozo atmosphere…while they cheer on the millionaires in $400.00 sneakers for the ‘Glory of Old IU.’

        Indiana, our Indiana
        Indiana, we’re all for shoes!
        We will fight for Adidas and Under Armour
        For the glory of a Tutankhamen tennis shoe!
        Never daunted, we cannot falter
        In the battle, we’ll always out-earn you
        Indiana, our Indiana,
        Indiana, oh what the hell are you?!

        “Indiana Fight”

        Fight for the Adidas and the Under Armour,
        Loyal sons of golden tennis shoe
        Fight for your gold-leaf dorm room walls…
        and the NBA you love so true.
        Fight for nothing Indiana,
        But see her players’ limousine drivers safely through,
        GO! TENNIS SHOE! FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!
        For the glory of everything ABOUT YOU!

  9. It’s way too early to be speculating about which programs are going to be getting the death penalty. I doubt Miller at Arizona is going to get charged with any violation or personally suffer any significant consequences. The fact is, it is impossible for any head coach to have total control over his employees. It is impossible for a Department Head (i.e., head coach) to prevent an employee from going rogue. Unless it can be proved that Miller knew of, or condoned, or participated in the scheme that got his assistant arrested, he’ll get off with a “shame on you for not knowing” slap on the wrist. These assistant coaches were taking tax-free money on the side. Simple as that. It is impossible to prevent a rogue employee who is determined to cheat or otherwise break the rules. I once had an excellent employee, a top-performer, who I caught cheating on his expense account. It involved a period of four months. He was real good and real devious about padding his expense reports and hiding it, but he eventually got caught. I had warned all my employees, verbally and in writing, that I would not tolerate any such behavior. They knew, without any doubt, the consequences they would suffer if I ever caught them cheating on expense reports. In spite of those warnings and the obvious consequences, this otherwise excellent employee cheated. He got fired, without severance, without any extension of benefits, and with a “terminated for cause” on his employment file. He lost a six-figure per year job for stealing what was, in relative terms, small change. He did not work for two years after I terminated him. He lost his car, his apartment, his girlfriend and his reputation within our industry and within his peer group. Should I have discovered his cheating sooner? Yes. Did I intensify my efforts to prevent cheating after that? Yes. Did I get reprimanded or fired? No. There is no way to implement 100% compliance with all the rules, in 100% of all employees, 100% of the time. And every adult who has ever been responsible for supervising people understands that. I would be shocked if it is discovered that Miller was involved or knew anything about it. I would be shocked if Arizona punished Miller beyond a slap on the wrist for “not knowing.” And if the NCAA tries to make Miller a scape goat without any evidence of his personal wrong-doing, my guess is, given that he has the means, he will fight them to protect his reputation and his family’s name.

  10. The fact is, it is impossible for any head coach to have total control over his employees.

    What a bunch of malarkey, said Kelvin. If amateur athletes get their hands onto the big piles of “black market” money, then they are employees.
    Why was I expected to keep any constant control/eyes on my employees?

    Now Sean is given a pass for not knowing what assistants were doing under his nose…? Why is that? Because he’s white and this is white collar crime? Believe me…..You can smell the printing ink from huge piles of dollars from a much further distance than a few smoldering joints.

    How did you get the mortgage on that new mansion? How did you buy that condo on the oceanfront…? How, oh how…..? Hmmm? I didn’t see a thing.

  11. And every adult who has ever been responsible for supervising people understands that. I would be shocked if it is discovered that Miller was involved or knew anything about it. I would be shocked if Arizona punished Miller beyond a slap on the wrist for “not knowing.”

    Isn’t that exactly what Louisville just did to Pitino? I’m sure he’s claiming “not knowing.” He didn’t know about campus hookers anymore than a Duke lacrosse coach knew of off-campus strippers.

    There is a reason many of these coaches don’t have “team night” dinners at their personal homes(like foolish Kelvin did for his players) . They don’t want to overhear any of the “What did you do last night?” chatter.

    Unless you have video, emails, recording, etc,…I don’t see any difference between Sean Miller’s justified claims of “not knowing” and Pitino’s. If they don’t have real evidence to expose Pitino’s knowledge of the “black market” money exchanges, he is going to win a very hefty lawsuit against the University of Louisville.

  12. The money received by the assistant coaches, isn’t tax free money, it would be called unreported income or a tax avoidance scheme, it’s compensation. I wonder how the shoe companies ran the payments through their accounting systems?

    1. That is an excellent. The fact this scandal hasn’t turned into a full blown investigation into the corporations that are fueling this is a little puzzling. But, even as the FBI said, this is just the beginning. They’ve made a couple of individual arrests, but how does the director of global sports marketing get his hands on that kind of cash. You don’t just take the corporate ATM card to the bank.

  13. If athletes are transported commodities to certain so-called institutions via these shoe agent’s cash deals…And if said purchasing of athletes constitutes certain plantation owners/colleges to acquire easily identified unfair advantages by monopolizing the recruiting “market” along with the channels/distribution/endpoints of supply lines, then I’d say we have major antitrust law violations engaged in by the identified shoe companies. Monopolization of recruit…monopolization of supply line….monopolization of advertising market in attempts at beyond unscrupulous branding.

    I’m not a lawyer…I just play one on Scoop TV.

  14. DD, I was not suggesting the level of the offenses were in the same ballpark. My point was, you can do everything right in supervising your employees and still have one go rogue. Common sense tells any reasonable adult that it is impossible for any supervisor to control the behavior of an employee all the time, or to know what every employee is doing all the time. John Feinstein is full of crap. Any idiot can throw that ridiculous comment out there as a way of inserting himself into the dialogue. That’s just a ridiculous comment and indicates Feinstein has probably never supervised anyone in his life.

    Sean Miller has been, as far as anyone knows, squeaky clean since becoming a head coach. Unlike the scumbag formerly employed by Louisville, he has not been sexually involved with the wife of one of his subordinates, nor have his assistant coaches brought hookers into a recruiting function on campus. There have not been any accusations that Miller or anyone on his staff has cheated or broken any rules prior to this recent accusation. So this case is the first strike against anyone associated with Miller’s program. If it can be proven that Sean Miller knew about his assistant coach committing a crime and did nothing about it, or if it can be proven that Miller participated in or tried to cover up the crime, then Sean Miller will get fired and maybe even charged. If not, he won’t. I’m betting he knew nothing about it and that no one will be able to prove otherwise. Since it is impossible to prove something that did not happen to be true, people have to be careful about making false accusations and casting aspersions. Unless someone can prove Sean Miller is guilty of personally violating the law or breaking the rules, or prove that Miller had lost control of his program, he’s not going to get punished for a crime committed by one of his employees. If you apply that standard to college coaches, any head coach or assistant coach in charge of a player that commits any crime, and their are dozens of those each year, would get fired.

    1. Bottom line Podunker is the buck stops at the coach. Whether he knew or not doesn’t matter. It happened and the coach should get the blame. The harsh lesson would hopefully wake up these coaches from slumbering at the status quo to actively taking a vested interest in his or her staff. Pointing fingers like Pitino is elementary school.

  15. I agree with Ben….The buck stops at the head coach. Any recruit in question is his ultimate responsibility.

    I also agree with Geoff….Basketball quit being a team sport with the departure of Brad Stevens to the NBA. His teams actually played as if they somehow still believed in this crazy concept that they could collectively do something of higher spiritual value together than what may be achieved in the future as individuals.
    It’s a very rare concept in basketball anymore for a group to buy into anything taught to achieve collective heights unimaginable over the tunnel vision of how great one player is …or can be.

  16. Well Ben, that’s a quaint slogan, but it’s far too simplistic to be applied in a legal situation like this, where a person’s due process is involved. And in today’s big time college sports environment, with millions and millions of dollars at stake for coaches and universities, it’s not applicable. Sure, Arizona could fire Sean Miller because one of his employees committed a crime, but Arizona better be able to pay Sean Miller his contract buyout, and then be able to prove that they are applying the exact same standard to every other coach, professor and administrator on campus. Otherwise, they’re going to get crucified by Miller’s lawyers in civil court, then watch Miller get hired by another University for even more money. By the standard you reference, Wilson should have been fired when one of his IU players was arrested for dealing drugs out of his Bloomington apartment. I don’t recall hearing or reading any such demands at the time. By that standard, a head coach should be fired when one of his assistants or players is arrested for DUI or charged with assault, and NFL head coaches should be fired every time one of their players (i.e., employees) is charged with spousal abuse, or battery, or DUI, illegal possession of a hand gun, or other violations of the law. It does not happen. By the standard you reference, every college and professional coach in America that had an assistant coach or a player that committed a crime should be fired. Doesn’t happen, shouldn’t happen and won’t happen, unless it can be proven that the coach was directly involved, knew of the crime, or tried to cover it up after the fact. Any business, university or organization that applies the standard you reference would be in total chaos and at risk of total collapse. College coaches are not omnipotent, and they don’t have total power to control the behavior of all their assistants or players.

  17. No it is simple because the vast majority of the coaching community are above board. The vast majority of athletic departments strive to have sufficient personnel exercising the checks and balances for compliance. But it does come down to HC’s consistently keeping an authoritarian, ominous thumb on their staff involved in recruiting. Explain the rules of hard ball. If subordinates have clear visions of the consequences of both the downside to a career and prospective legal, life changing actions they will be cognizant of the flashing line bordering no mans land.

      1. And it’s my understanding that the Richardson guy under Sean Miller is his most long term assistant. Wow…I believe it’s a total of a 10-year relationship (8 seasons together at Arizona and 2 years at Xavier)?
        I guess sometimes you just don’t know a person no matter how long a relationship. Assistants generally go as their head coaches go (poor win-loss results and they’re part of the housecleaning)….and some assistants probably are capable of doing things under a head coach’s nose to improve the odds of assembling winning teams. But 10 years and you don’t know what this guy is doing and the seedy relationships he’s forging on the recruiting scene? Sounds like somebody didn’t want to know….Innocence can always cuddle up in bed with claimed ignorance, I suppose.

        Alternatively, the best assistants (“best” meaning loyal to a fault) will always remain the wall of protection in shielding a head coach from any potential scandal. Without the Neil Reed video, just how long would assistants have shielded Knight? How long had they already shielded him from numerous things we’ll never know?

        Did Book Richardson do his job by being the fall guy…? Not sure if that should be loyalty to his fault…or deception to his credit. The idea of going to jail could change the loyalty equation….Potentially harsh NCAA penalties against a “fall guy” coach still can’t compare to the pressures to keep quiet when prison sentences are involved.

        Ten years…..That’s longer than a lot of couples stay faithful or married. Hard to imagine so many travels, practices, meetings, and dinners together and still not know such darkness looms in a trusted assistant.
        Sean may escape the scandal…He does deserve due process. But can he ever escape the questions that will never die from this…and the same sorts of “cheater” accusations which have always followed his close friend in Lexington?

        1. Is there anything in sports sacred anymore…? It’s almost more uncommon during the last couple decades for a “superstar” or “super team” to not have achievements/wins vacated.
          I remember the shock when the track and field star, Marion Jones, put herself in front of national cameras confessing to her use of performance-enhancing drugs…Then came the cleanest athlete in cycling, Lance Armstrong, shocking confession to his own use of PED’s after years of denial and labeling teammates and international cyclists as liars…And then we had Mark McGwire’s fabulous home run records tainted with cheating(the guy looked like Popeye…Who knew?)…and then A-Rod……and the endless list of high profile cheaters in all sports goes on…and on…and on.
          And then along came the Penn State bomb drop …..Can anything get more shocking than a quality institution with impeccable education standards, and a legendary football who built a legendary program sold on the same highest standards of building character, would be found guilty of molesting children in the football team’s locker room showers for more than 15 years?

          Where is the bottom of the barrel? There is no bottom. There is no enforcement that can challenge a simple adherence to a knowledge between right and wrong. Winning the “right way?” What a joke. How can any fan actually believe claims to such foolish slogans? It’s obvious that many households are not teaching a “right way” to anything. Cheating is learned behavior. It has invaded the sporting world no different than the corporate world. Nobody is born to be a cheat. Nobody is born to take the riches of fame and fortune on the backs of an honest man attempting to adhere to the long forgone idea of having a conscience rooted in moral strength.

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