The trial of three individuals at the heart of college basketball's recruiting scandal began in New York on Monday. Here's an explanation of everything we know and what it could mean for the future of the sport.
Assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma State are accused of accepting thousands of dollars in exchange for guiding athletes toward certain financial advisers and business managers, and former Adidas executive James Gatto is accused of bribing athletes to commit to programs donning three stripes on their jerseys.
This video from Deadspin's Nick Martin lays out the basis for these FBI charges:
This first case to go to court focuses on an aspiring sports agent, an AAU coach, and an Adidas executive accused of bribing high school basketball player Brian Bowen Jr. with $100,000 in exchange for his commitment to play basketball at the University of Louisville. But beyond this one instance, the trial will illuminate specific coaches, players, and programs that may have engaged in bribery and fraud — both federal crimes — to secure top recruits.
According to ESPN'S Mark Schlabach, "the government alleged that the defendants defrauded certain NCAA Division I universities by causing them to issue athletic-based financial aid to players who were ineligible because their families had received illicit payments to sign with Adidas-sponsored schools." In other words, these bribes and under-the-table deals are relevant to the FBI because swindling schools out of financial aid money equates to stealing tax money directly from taxpayers.
And we're not talking about chump change. Sports Illustrated's Scooby Axson reported that the NCAA — which runs as a not-for-profit organization — earned more than of $1 billion in annual revenue for the first time last year. Axon also noted that, in 2016, the organization extended its college basketball tournament deal with CBS and Turner through 2032 for $8.8 billion.
Although the four assistant coaches from Arizona, Auburn, USC, and Oklahoma State and Louisville head coach Rick Pitino have all lost their jobs, no school has seen direct ramifications from the scandal. That could all change in light of this trial and other trials to come.
The three defendants in this current case — Christian Dawkins, Merl Code, and James Gatto — all pleaded not guilty Monday morning. According to Schlabach, their lawyers will readily admit that the trio broke a lot of NCAA rules while recruiting players, but:
Because of this approach, many programs that were not initially identified in this FBI probe will be pointed to as evidence that under-the-table payments are commonplace within the sport. And while the FBI may not have cases against all of these programs, the NCAA could undoubtedly take retaliatory action if they corroborate the claims.
We've already seen the defense cite Oregon — a Nike-sponsored school — as guilty of these charges, and many of the big names who may be mentioned throughout the trial were never affiliated with Adidas-sponsored teams. Other programs will undoubtedly come under scrutiny as the trial continues, and we'll begin to see just how deep this scandal goes.