Get ready for the national spotlight to shift away from the NFL to college basketball — and not in a good way. NBC News reported a few minutes ago that the FBI rounded up several NCAA assistant coaches in a corruption probe that appears unprecedented in sports:
BREAKING NEWS / NBC: The FBI has arrested several NCAA asst. basketball coaches in a corruption scheme. Presser @ 12n with U.S. Attorney
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) September 26, 2017
MORE: NCAA-related arrests were made across the country last night, a senior law enforcement official tells @NBCInvestigates
— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 26, 2017
The Department of Justice sent out an announcement of a press conference at noon today. Ten people have been arrested already, and “representatives of a major sportswear company.”
Oh boy pic.twitter.com/7n14TY7WZA
— CJ Ciaramella (@cjciaramella) September 26, 2017
TMZ has a scoop on the nature of the corruption, and on the sportswear exec involved. If they’re correct, Adidas’ Jim Gatto paid six figures in bribes to get top athletes to colleges sponsored by the company:
The FBI claims Jim Gatto — the Director of Global Marketing for Adidas Basketball — paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to funnel top prospects to Adidas sponsored colleges … including Louisville.
The FBI says 4 NCAA coaches were also arrested as part of the investigation — including Auburn coach Chuck Person. Oklahoma State coach Lamont Evans was also arrested. USC assistant coach Tony Bland was also arrested.
So, “Oh boy” is right. NCAA basketball is big business, and maybe too big business for its own good. Gatto allegedly tried to bribe one player and his family to choose one of Adidas’ partners, and that suggests that the tactic might have been used with others. According to TMZ, the FBI has wiretaps of these conversations, which means they’ve been looking into this for quite a while. When people start to sing — and they will, believe it — this may well stretch back for years, and perhaps more than one corporation, too. Once bribes start becoming common, it’s tough to believe that only one entity entered the market on that basis without blowing the whistle on it. Of course, that may be exactly how the FBI got involved in the first place.
Will this overtake the NFL story? We’re still at the very beginning of this story’s life cycle, of course, but media feeds on Twitter seem to have mainly missed this breaking news from NBC and the DoJ to continue its wall-to-wall coverage of the pregame protests in the NFL. That scandal may be exacerbating an already-extant trend of fans away from professional football, but a corruption scandal in college basketball could end up burying the league — and much of the billions of dollars that get made from it. That seems like a much more topical issue than kneeling before games, but YMMV.
Update: Fixed last sentence.
Update: ESPN has a more complete list of the suspects. Note that “advisers” also allegedly got in on the act:
Other people named in the documents include James Gatto, director of global sports marketing at Adidas; Merl Code, who recently left Nike for Adidas; Christian Dawkins, an NBA agent who was recently fired from ASM Sports for charging approximately $42,000 in Uber charges on a player’s credit card; Jonathan Brad Augustine, president of The League Initiative and program director of the Adidas-sponsored 1 Family AAU program; Munish Sood, a financial adviser; and Rashan Michel, a former NBA official who founded Thompson Bespoke Clothing, a custom clothier for athletes.
Since 2015, the FBI has been investigating the criminal influence of money on coaches and student-athletes who participate in intercollegiate basketball governed by the NCAA, federal authorities said.
They said the probe has revealed numerous instances in which bribes were paid by athlete advisers, including financial advisers and associate basketball coaches, to assistant and associate basketball coaches to exert influence over student-athletes so the athletes would retain the services of those paying the bribes.
The coaches acted as the gateways to the athletes:
“Moreover, many such coaches have enormous influence over the student-athletes who play for them, in particular with respect to guiding those student-athletes through the process of selecting agents and other advisers when they prepare to leave college and enter the NBA,” the complaints said.
“The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so,” the papers said.
So much for ethics. This will likely get worse.