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Is this the beginning of the end for college sports?

NCAA Hall of Champions, photo by Geoff Chen

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Is this the beginning of the end for college sports?

The FBI and the Southern District of New York US Attorney Joon H. Kim just dunked on the NCAA and college basketball. Unfortunately for the status quo of NCAA and college basketball recruiting, it’s only five minutes into the first half. There is a lot more to come.

If you missed it, federal prosecutors held a press conference Tuesday morning announcing the arrest of 10 individuals, including 4 college basketball assistant coaches on charges of corruption and fraud. This stems from what has been a three-year FBI probe that focused on coaches being paid bribes to steer high caliber basketball players to agents and shoe companies when they go pro.

Involved in the arrests were coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State (though some charges go back to his time at South Carolina), and USC. On top of those 5 implicated programs, the DA’s complaint included information that allows you to piece together information that Louisville and Miami are also implicated. On top of college programs Adidas, Nike and several sports agencies and financial advisers are swept up. The biggest name in those additional arrests is Jim Gatto, director of sports marketing for Adidas and Merl Code, currently Adidas but formerly director of Nike’s youth basketball program.

All in all, this is a bomb shell for college basketball. These are all mostly no name guys caught up in either facilitating or actually paying high school players to play for a certain school or influencing college players to sign with a certain agent. And this isn’t just hearsay. In the 120 page complaint released by the DA there are text messages and references to wire taps and surveillance. They have these guys dead to rights and they’re facing years in a federal prison. Which means they’re going to sing like canaries.

Especially a guy like Adidas executive Jim Gatto, who orchestrated a $100,000 series of payments to a recruit to get him to go to an Adidas school in Louisville. If he was doing it for Louisville, you can bet your mortgage it was going on at other Adidas programs. On top of that, there are records of communication between Gatto and an unnamed Louisville assistant (pretty good money says it is former IU assistant Kenny Johnson) stating that “another apparel company” has upped the ante, so we’ve got to get more money to the recruit. Meaning there’s plenty to implicate what appears to be Nike, given the context we can piece together.

So, what does this all mean? We have only scratched the surface of what is going to come of this. The FBI has not spent 3 years of resources on a case like this to arrest a bunch of no names. If they had, they would have perp walked them yesterday when they announced the charges. No, they are going for a bigger fish. A big-name college basketball coach, athletic director or university president is going to be serving hard time at the end of this. Especially since this was the worst kept secret in college sports.

Paying or influencing kids to go to certain schools to ultimately sign with certain shoe companies is a NCAA wide fact that everyone knows and the NCAA has done little about. But now that the FBI has decided it is a federal crime, their subpoena power is going to expose the seedy underbelly of college recruiting. The shocker is that it took this long for it to happen. There are a few scenarios ranging from likely to probably not in this investigation.

Most Likely

Louisville is getting the death penalty and Rick Pitino and his athletic director Tom Jurich will be unemployed by the close of business on Wednesday (this is being written Wednesday morning). The NCAA cannot allow for a program that just so recently was forced to vacate a Final Four for entertaining recruits with strippers to get away with facilitating payments to recruits. Rick Pitino is a hall of fame head coach and he’s about to end his career in disgrace. Tom Jurich was probably a top 5 athletic director in college sports, he’ll never work in the industry again. Louisville is a top 15 basketball program of all time, their team may get beat by a top notch intramural team at IU’s HYPER in the near future. It should be over for that university. Other schools directly implicated should also be sweating. If the NCAA doesn’t swing a mighty hammer, the NCAA should dissolve.

Pretty Likely

More college programs are going to get caught up in this, including football. Indiana fans especially should be sweating. While not named, the assistant coach busted with text messages facilitating payments from Adidas to the Louisville recruit is most certainly Kenny Johnson. Tom Crean gave Johnson his first high major assistant coaching job and it was purely for his recruiting acumen and connections. He left the Hoosiers program for Louisville somewhat surprisingly with little public resistance from IU to try and retain him. Hoosiers fans need to pray it is because the program figured out he was doing things like this and encouraged him to find other employment. Not everyone is doing it, but a lot are. Some head coaches are going to feel vindicated this week. The playing field has just been leveled for them. Many others aren’t going to sleep for weeks as they wait to see if the Feds come knocking on their door.

Likely

The NCAA definition of amateurism as we currently know it is over. The free market is trying to pay these kids what they’re worth. Apparently for a top 25 recruit it is $100,000. The NCAA has to take a long hard look at their amateurism rules now that what has long been known is now officially exposed. Paying players is a tough sell mostly because the dollars and cents are hard to rectify. That’s a big price tag over night in a system where universities are already dealing with administrative bloat and trying to keep costs down. More likely we will get some reform where players can capitalize off their likeness within a certain set of rules. If an athlete can work out a deal where they profit from their likeness, go for it.

Less Likely

The NCAA tries to wait out the FBI investigation before taking action of their own. These implicated programs survive unscathed for a few years. Then the NCAA comes down on them after the players involved have already moved on to other places. The ones that are punished from sanctions are kids that are just now starting high school.  An outrage at this occurs and you see some major reforms within the NCAA itself. They were caught off guard by this investigation, but they most certainly were not unaware of the schemes for which the individuals were charged. This has been happening for decades. The movie “Blue Chips” was closer to a documentary than fiction. The NCAA will have to own up to letting all of this happen for years, right?

Not Likely

The NBA and NFL are prompted to change their eligibility rules significantly. Adam Silver and the NBA are already talking about changing up the rules that force college to have one and done players. This may be the final straw that makes the players unions and leagues realize that college is probably not the most efficient or ethical manner to develop these kids. Do we see the NBA G-League become the soccer development model? Youth soccer academies dominate the United States and Europe when it comes to talent development. Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, is on record saying it is the future of the NBA. Does this prompt pro teams to develop their own academies away from college sports?

No Chance, But Maybe

The NCAA as we know it is over. Amateurism in high revenue sports like basketball and football ceases to exist. The NCAA becomes a useless antiquated body that has no real power and Purdue basketball and Notre Dame football are glorified high schools because all of the real athletes are making money on the FC Indiana U-19 team. It isn’t a scenario that has much of a chance, but it is on the table. We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of college sports.

Ultimately only time will tell what eventually happens. The Feds are going to keep rolling these guys up until they get a scalp worth parading in front of the news cameras. But how the NCAA chooses to move forward as well as individual universities will likely set the tone for the final results. It will probably be years in the making, not months. But in the meantime, we are going to get to see what most already knew. College sports and recruiting is a blood sport filled with dirty (and apparently illegal) tricks. The District Attorney of the Southern District of New York is about to show us.

 

A Southwest Indiana native, Adam Johnson has spent 28 years obsessing over sports. Obsession with sports and competition has led Adam to write and operate an IU sports blog, run a Bachelor/Bachelorette fantasy league, and apply for a spot on CBS’ Survivor annually since he’s been eligible for the show. Now living in the western suburbs of Indianapolis, Adam spends his time trying to figure out how to raise a child, maintain a career, stay in shape and simultaneously feed his preoccupation for sports. While most of his writing is focused on sports, Adam occasionally gets the bug to share opinions that he probably shouldn’t.

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