The NCAA tournament tips off on Tuesday, and when it does, the eyes of the college hoops world will turn to basketball. But for the past few months, they’ve largely been elsewhere.
They have, to varying degrees, been glued to a sweeping corruption scandal that has unsettled the sport and threatened to do much more.
The worst, in all likelihood, is yet to come. But the scandal intensified in the final weeks of the regular season after a Yahoo Sports report implicated several active players and programs.
The scandal might not directly affect the 2018 NCAA tournament, and might be swept under the rug for a few weeks. But in many ways, it already has had an impact. Here’s what you need to know.
The scandal in 150 words
A years-long FBI investigation, replete with wiretaps, recordings and financial records, uncovered evidence of widespread corruption involving universities and their men’s basketball programs, shoe companies, agents and players. In September, authorities arrested 10 men, including active assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC.
No further arrests have been made, but the investigation is ongoing, and threatens to ensnare dozens of top programs, Hall of Fame coaches and former and future NBA lottery picks.
In February, Yahoo Sports published federal documents detailing payments allegedly made to current and former college stars or their families.
In light of the Yahoo Sports report, many high-profile schools launched internal investigations to look into the allegations. Several schools held players out of competition due to eligibility concerns, but most of the players implicated have been allowed to keep playing.
Among current head coaches, Arizona’s Sean Miller has taken the most heat, but Miller vehemently denied an ESPN report that the FBI had intercepted a phone call in which Miller discussed making an illicit payment.
The players and programs implicated
The documents obtained by Yahoo Sports implicate the following high-profile players, among others:
- Current college players Miles Bridges (Michigan State), Bennie Boatwright (USC), Chimezie Metu (USC), Eric Davis (Texas) and Malik Pope (San Diego State) were among those listed as having received (or having had a family member receive) payments from Christian Dawkins, the agent indicted by federal authorities, or ASM Sports, the agency headed by Andy Miller at the center of the investigation.
- Current freshmen Collin Sexton (Alabama), Wendell Carter (Duke) and Kevin Knox (Kentucky) were among those listed as having met with (or having family members who met with) Dawkins.
- Brian Bowen, who initially signed with Louisville, then withdrew and enrolled at South Carolina, was implicitly listed in the initial criminal complaints as having received illegal payments, and then explicitly listed in the documents obtained by Yahoo Sports.
- Former college players Markelle Fultz (Washington), Josh Jackson (Kansas), Dennis Smith Jr. (NC State), Bam Adebayo (Kentucky), Kyle Kuzma (Utah), Fred VanVleet (Wichita State), Edmond Sumner (Xavier), P.J. Dozier (South Carolina), Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall), Tim Quarterman (LSU), Diamond Stone (Maryland) and Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson) were among those listed as having received (or having had a family member receive) payments from Dawkins or ASM Sports.
- Former college players Tony Bradley (North Carolina), Justin Patton (Creighton), Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Wade Baldwin (Vanderbilt) were among those listed as having met with (or having family members who met with) Dawkins.
Many of the schools mentioned above reviewed the allegations and determined that there were no eligibility issues affecting their current players. Many of the implicated players also denied that either they or their families received the money or benefits mentioned in Dawkins’ expense report.
Arizona and Sean Miller
Hours after the Yahoo Sports report, ESPN reported that the FBI’s evidence included intercepted phone calls between Sean Miller and Dawkins in which the two discussed a payment of $100,000 “to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats.” Per ESPN, that was one of multiple conversations between the two, and when Dawkins asked Miller if he should instead negotiate with one of Miller’s assistant coaches (who was later among those arrested in September), Miller told Dawkins to deal directly with him (Miller).
Questions about the feasibility of the timeline in the ESPN story emerged in the days following publication. ESPN said the alleged phone conversation intercepted in the wiretap occurred in 2017, months after Ayton had already committed to Arizona. The network issued a pair of corrections stating that the phone call took place in Spring 2016 and then just 2016 before issuing a third correction that reverted back to the original timeline.
The following week, Miller – who had received public backing from Arizona’s president back in October – held a news conference to emphatically deny the ESPN report. “Let me be very, very clear,” he said. “I have never discussed with Christian Dawkins paying Deandre Ayton to attend the University of Arizona. Anything reporting to the contrary is inaccurate, false and defamatory.”
Miller returned to the sidelines that night and has been coaching since.
How many other top programs will be affected?
Miller’s Arizona program is the most successful of those explicitly implicated in the scandal so far. But sources told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel in February that potentially as many as 50 college basketball programs could end up compromised in some way.
One source told Thamel: “Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams [on track for a top-four seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament as of mid-February] should worry about their appearance being vacated.”
How the scandal blew up
Back in 2015, the FBI opened an investigation into the college hoops underworld – the black market in which coaches, agents, apparel company employees and financial advisors use illegal payments to influence high school stars during their recruitment.
With the help of a cooperating witness – reportedly Marty Blazer, a financial planner who pled guilty to fraud and identity theft – investigators uncovered evidence that includes over 4,000 phone call recordings and thousands of documents.
On Sept. 26, 2017, authorities announced the arrests of 10 men in three separate but related criminal cases. Eight of the 10 were indicted in November. The 10 are charged on various counts of bribery, wire fraud and, in the cases of five of the six non-coaches, money laundering conspiracy.
Who was arrested?
The 10 men arrested, along with their positions at time of arrest, were:
- High-ranking Adidas executive James Gatto
- Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person
- Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson
- Oklahoma State assistant coach Lamont Evans
- USC assistant coach Tony Bland
- Agent Christian Dawkins
- Financial adviser Munish Sood
- Adidas employee Merl Code
- High-end clothing company owner Rashan Michel
- AAU director Brad Augustine
The charges against Augustine were dropped in February. Sood was the other of the 10 who was never indicted.
Were other schools implicated in the criminal complaints?
Nobody officially associated with Louisville was charged, but the complaints alleged that Gatto, Sood and Dawkins – the Adidas exec, financial planner and agent – “conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000″ from Adidas to the family of a player subsequently reported to be Bowen. The money was designed to help coaches at Louisville, an Adidas-sponsored school, in their recruitment of Bowen. Bowen committed to Louisville in June 2017.
South Carolina – where Evans coached from 2012-2016 – was also implicitly mentioned as “a public research university located in South Carolina … with over 30,000 students.”
Louisville also suspended Bowen indefinitely, and later told the freshman he would never play or practice for the school. Bowen subsequently withdrew from Louisville, enrolled at South Carolina, and appealed to the NCAA.
The same day Pitino was ousted, Alabama “accepted the resignation” of a men’s basketball administrator who had met with Michel, the FBI’s cooperating witness, and the father of a recruit.
A month and a half later, Alabama freshman Collin Sexton was one of several players initially held out of competition by schools due to eligibility concerns. Others initially held out were Auburn duo Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley; Oklahoma State’s Jeffrey Carroll and USC’s De’Anthony Melton.
Sexton was reinstated after missing the season opener, and has played all but two games since. Carroll sat out the first three games of the season, but has played in every game since. Purifoy and Wiley, though, have not been reinstated. USC announced Melton would sit the entire season, and the sophomore guard subsequently decided to leave the school and prepare to turn pro.
Following the Yahoo Sports report in late February, Pope (San Diego State) and Davis (Texas) were both suspended indefinitely by their respective schools. Davis, a junior guard, has been held out since. Pope missed one game before being reinstated.
Other schools, though, released statements saying they had found no wrongdoing by players or employees, and/or had no reason to suspend players whose names appeared in the documents.
Meanwhile, the notorious NBA agent at the heart of the scandal, ASM Sports founder Andy Miller, was forced to relinquish his NBPA agent certification. Miller, who represented NBA stars such as Kevin Garnett and Kyle Lowry, had his computer seized in an FBI raid and is now effectively out of business.
What has been the NCAA’s role in the investigation?
Though it has been criticized unceasingly from all corners of the basketball world since news of the investigation and arrests broke, the NCAA is mostly playing a waiting game. It has ceded the floor to federal authorities, and will likely let their investigation play out before it begins any of its own, and before it takes any action.
Shortly after the Yahoo Sports report in late February, NCAA president Mark Emmert issued the following statement:
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports. They are an affront to all those who play by the rules. Following the Southern District of New York’s indictments last year, the NCAA Board of Governors and I formed the independent Commission on College Basketball, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, to provide recommendations on how to clean up the sport. With these latest allegations, it’s clear this work is more important now than ever. The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity. We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”
How will the investigation affect the 2018 NCAA tournament?
Aside from players on NCAA tournament teams who have been suspended by their schools – Davis at Texas, Purifoy and Wiley at Auburn, Melton at USC, Bowen at (previously) Louisville – the investigation likely won’t have an immediate impact.
But the scandal could have a retrospective impact years down the line. National titles, Final Four appearances, tournament appearances and wins could be vacated. How extensive the fallout will eventually be remains unknown.
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