Once again, Happy Broderick Crawford Day…
It has been about a year since the FBI very conspicuously announced their multi-year investigation into the evils of college basketball recruiting. A handful of assistant coaches were indicted; some shoe company execs and employees were charged; there were photo-ops of people taking the infamous “perp-walk”. Many commentators opined that this would open a floodgate of revelations as cooperating witnesses pointed investigators onto new paths where more slime would be found. Yes, there have been subpoenas sent to a few other schools since the first wave of publicity in this matter; but for the most part, things have been quiet. Rick Pitino was fired based on allegations related to the case; he has not been charged with anything to date. Jim Larranaga was also alleged to have been involved in this stuff; he has not been charged with anything to date.
The first trial to come out of all of this is beginning. Two Adidas “officials” and a runner for a player agent are charged with wire fraud as they acted to steer prized recruits to “Adidas schools” and ultimately to the runner’s player agency. I have never understood the “criminality” of the actions alleged here even if every word of the indictments were to be true, so I asked a lawyer who was a Federal prosecutor years ago before going into private practice if he could enlighten me on the matter. This is his explanation – and he properly added the disclaimer that it is based only on things that have been made public:
- The under-the-table payments of money to players and players’ families to induce them to go to certain schools put the schools at risk and therefore defrauded the schools. The risk of accepting the player who had taken the improper payments was not made clear to the universities. The reasoning here is that if/when the NCAA uncovered the improper payments, those schools would lose lots of money due to the sanctions the NCAA would impose on the schools.
- The criminality became a Federal crime when it involved the interstate transfer of funds to effect the fraud perpetrated on the schools.
[For the record, my lawyer-friend said that my description above would not be a sufficient answer to a professor in law school but that it captured the essence of his explanation to me. Also, for the record, if I were in the jury box and the prosecutors used that in their opening argument to the jury, I would have to stifle a giggle.]
The NCAA has adopted new rules that intend to reduce the influence of shoe/apparel companies in the basketball recruiting process including the establishment of an NCAA sponsored summer league for top-shelf basketball prospects. Time will tell how long it will be until that league too becomes tainted; but for now, let’s keep a good thought and assume that all will be well for a little while. Other than that, the NCAA has been unusually smart about what it has done and said. In essence, it has done and said nothing.
The NCAA is in the catbird seat here. Consider:
- Its member schools are painted here as the victims of a nefarious cabal to defraud them. By extension, that makes the NCAA a secondary victim.
- If the allegations against the Adidas execs are true, the NCAA’s byzantine recruiting rules were clearly violated. The NCAA is the beneficiary of FBI time and effort to enforce those rules which the NCAA had no idea had been broken.
- Moreover, the NCAA gets the enforcement and the portrayal as a secondary victim handed to them at taxpayer expense.
- Such a deal …
I indicated above that I would not be very likely to vote to convict anyone of a Federal crime in these proceedings. However, that does not mean that I think all the folks named as malefactors in this opera are fine and upstanding citizens. Quite to the contrary, I think they are bad guys who have despoiled the college basketball recruiting processes. It would be great if the NCAA and its member institutions could enforce the NCAA’s own rules such that we would not need this outside effort – – but that has never happened in the past and is not likely to happen in the future. I am not sanguine that convictions in this trial – and future trials that may come after this one – are going to solve the problem.
Now, it does seem to me that a Federal crime has likely been committed here if all the allegations made public to date are true. There are people out there who received money – allegedly as much as $100K – when certain recruits went to specific schools. I do not know this for certain, but I think it is a good bet that those people did not report that money as income on their tax returns. Remember, that is how the Feds got Al Capone…
Changing the subject – but staying in the quagmire of Federal law and legislation – the Congress of the United States is considering action regarding sports wagering in the wake of the Supreme Court decision that the last act by Congress regarding that issue was unconstitutional. The Court said PASPA was unconstitutional but made it clear that Congress COULD act to control/regulate sports betting if it chose to do so and did so in a constitutional manner. There were recent hearings held in the House of Representatives.
- Quick Quiz: No Googling now … Which Subcommittee in the House of Representatives has jurisdiction over potential legislation of this kind?
- Answer: The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigation. Why not?
At a recent hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony that was about as shocking as hearing that the sun comes up in the east and/or that brown bears do indeed go poo in the woods. Witnesses told the subcommittee:
- Illegal sports betting outlets – – your friendly neighborhood bookies – – offer benefits to bettors that legal sports betting outlets do not. Some of these benefits include betting on credit and aiding and abetting tax fraud by not withholding and reporting large wins by bettors to the IRS.
- For the record, any member of that subcommittee who did not know that prior to hearing said testimony should be disqualified from sitting on that subcommittee. They should also probably be reminded not to run with scissors in hand…
Finally, as the NBA begins its exhibition season silliness, let me close with commentary from two sportswriters on Tristan Thompson’s assertion that the Cleveland Cavaliers are still a force majeure in the Eastern Conference:
“The Cavaliers — despite the departure of LeBron James — are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, Cleveland center Tristan Thompson told reporters.
“Oddsmakers immediately made Thompson the morning-line favorite for first NBA player to get drug-tested this season.” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]
“Cleveland forward Tristan Thompson says the LeBron-less Cavs are still four-time conference champs and ‘until you take us down from that, teams ain’t got much to say.’
“Except maybe this: The Browns aren’t the worst team in Cleveland anymore.” [Brad Rock, Deseret News]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………