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The FBI’s Investigation Into College Basketball Recruiting Is Starting to Produce Names

A spreadsheet published Friday includes names of players next to monetary values listed as “loans.” With March Madness right around the corner, where does the case go from here?

Photo via Grant Halverson/Getty Images:

On Friday morning, Yahoo Sports published a report featuring documents and bank records that suggest that former NBA agent Andy Miller and his associates at ASM Sports provided impermissible benefits to more than 25 players and at least 20 Division I men’s college basketball programs. The names mentioned include current college players such as Duke’s Wendell Carter, Alabama’s Collin Sexton, and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, as well as former college stars including Kentucky’s Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr., and Washington’s Markelle Fultz, among others.

An ASM Sports balance sheet obtained during the FBI’s investigation into a number of NCAA institutions seeking to uncover a black market within college basketball recruiting listed more than two dozen players and the monetary values the documents state that they received under a subheading labeled “Loan to Players.” While there are a few players listed as receiving substantial payments (like Smith, who is listed as receiving $73,500 in loans), the majority of athletes named on this sheet allegedly collected much smaller fees (Carlos Delfino, for example, is shown as taking a loan for $71.39) or simply accepted free meals. While the NCAA stipulates that all impermissible benefits — any gifts or special arrangements that are not readily available to an average student — are violations, players who take payments of $200 or less are allowed to repay that amount to charities of their choice to avoid losing athletic eligibility, per NCAA rules.

The FBI’s investigation first came to light in September, when four power-conference assistant coaches were charged with federal bribery and fraud charges. The coaches reportedly accepted payments in return for influencing players’ decisions to sign with specific schools, and later with designated apparel companies upon reaching the NBA. Adidas director of global marketing Jim Gatto was indicted on charges related to giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to funnel top recruits to Adidas schools — a revelation that led to the firing of former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino.

Unlike September’s bombshell revelations, Friday’s report doesn’t suggest that any employees of NCAA member institutions (or ASM Sports agents) broke federal law. The scheme described in a federal indictment last fall in which brands allegedly paid assistant coaches would constitute bribery of federal officials if it were to result in a conviction, because assistant coaches are public employees. However, an agent loaning prospective clients money in return for future consideration isn’t a crime. While the payments — if confirmed — would be NCAA violations, no one would be arrested for the quid pro quo laid out by Yahoo Sports.

Still, Friday’s report does raise questions as to where the case will go from here. It’s possible that this revelation is the harbinger of more damning allegations to come. The FBI could soon come forward with more charges against NCAA member institutions, coaches, and agents. Perhaps the power players in college basketball will all fall, and the landscape of the sport will be irreversibly altered. “When this all comes out, Hall of Fame coaches should be scared, lottery picks won’t be eligible to play and almost half of the 16 teams the NCAA showed on its initial NCAA tournament show this weekend should worry about their appearance being vacated,” a source told Yahoo’s Pete Thamel in a report earlier this month.

But that’s not a given. Another possibility is that the FBI doesn’t have much more on the schools and its players than has already been made public, and that the full breadth of any new revelations will result in NCAA violations and suspensions but not federal charges. The majority of players named in Friday’s report allegedly took loans that, at most, would have met the cost of a full year of textbooks. These documents didn’t show totals in the range of $100,000, the amount that former Louisville recruit Bruce Bowen was reported as receiving.

In a statement released on Friday in response to the Yahoo report, NCAA president Mark Emmert labeled the actions of those involved as criminal, and vowed to work to clean up the sport. “People who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports,” Emmert said. “They are an affront to all those who play by the rules. … 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.”

In the coming weeks, it’s likely that more will come out about backroom dealings in the underbelly of college basketball. Coaches and schools will probably feign ignorance; agencies will probably say that they didn’t break any laws; and Emmert will probably release more statements ensuring fans that all perpetrators will be eradicated from the sport. Regardless of what the FBI finds or what charges it levies, though, the antiquated notion of amateurism in college athletics — one that punishes players for showing creativity, and keeps them from earning their fair keep — will almost certainly remain in place. Until the organization is willing to develop a system that allows student-athletes to be properly compensated for their labor, only so much can change.