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The FBI Should Have The NCAA On Trial, Not Players And Coaches

In a federal court in New York City this week, the FBI trial centering around the shady side of elite college basketball is offering a look into the black market that has surrounded the game for decades.

In a federal court in New York City this week, the FBI trial centering around the shady side of elite college basketball is offering a look into the black market that has surrounded the game for decades. 

It’s no secret that John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty back in the ’60s and ’70s was due to much more than his legendary coaching acumen and his much lauded “Pyramid of Success”. 

UCLA Bruins – 1969

A profile of the 1969 UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team.

In addition to the principles of Competitive Greatness, Poise, Confidence, Condition, Skill, Team Spirit, Self-Control, Alertness, Initiative, Intentness, Industriousness and Friendship that Wooden espoused, the Bruins were also propelled by illegal payments to lure the country’s top recruits to Westwood that were made by businessman Sam Gilbert.


Those 10 national championship banners that the school hung up from 1964 to 1975 were fueled by Gilbert’s cash and benevolence. During the heyday of Wooden’s dynasty, “Papa Sam” helped players get cars, clothes, airline tickets, apartments, cash and scalpers’ prices for UCLA season tickets, while also allegedly arranging abortions for players’ girlfriends.


At the time of his death in 1987, federal prosecutors, who were unaware of his passing, indicted him for racketeering and money laundering.

“There were two people I listened to,” former UCLA star Lucius Allen once told The Los Angeles Times. “Coach Wooden as long as we were between the lines. Outside the court Sam Gilbert.”

Lew Alcindor at UCLA

Heavily sought by collegiate basketball programs, he played for the UCLA Bruins from 1966 to 1969 under coach John Wooden, contributing to the team’s three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses, one to Houston (see below) and the other to crosstown rival USC who played a “stall game” (i.e., there was no shot clock, so a team could exploit the rules by, basically, holding the ball as long as it wanted before attempting to score).


So for folks who study the business of college basketball and who’ve had an insider’s look at the murky underbelly of the sport over the years, the current trial isn’t offering anything up that’s groundbreaking. It’s only the emerging details that are new.

A few months prior to last year’s NCAA Tournament, the crown jewel of the organization’s billion dollar business model, college basketball was at the epicenter of America’s criminal universe when teams of FBI agents, some wearing bulletproof vests, raided agent Andy Miller’s office while simultaneously arresting a financial adviser and an aspiring NBA agent. 


Assistant coaches at Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Southern California were also taken into custody, in massive shows of force and under a raging media spotlight, for reportedly accepted cash while agreeing to send players in their direction for representation once they turned pro.

Supposedly, coaches at some major programs had also arranged six-figure payments, through sneaker company executives, for the families of high school recruits in order to get them enrolled in uniform, I mean on campus.

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It was supposedly the tip of the iceberg of the scandal that would destroy college basketball as we know it, making the NCAA look like innocent bystanders drowning in a cesspool created by black market miscreants, intent on destroying their noble enterprise.

Watch Villanova win the 2018 National Championship in 10 minutes

The Villanova Wildcats are the 2018 National Champions! Watch their National Championship win over Michigan in 10 minutes. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America, said Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, in a statement. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports.



But as I wrote when March Madness tipped off last year:


But as the buzzer-beaters start to fall and this year’s Cinderella’s emerge over the next few weeks, do not fall for the okey doke.

The three-plus-year federal inquiry and subsequent arrests don’t stem from true criminality, but from an antiquated and exploitative NCAA rule book that won’t allow players, the ones who generate billions of dollars in revenue, to profit from their labor.

The names of some players and their families will be dragged through the mud, as if they conspired with the Mafia to commit fraud against their respective universities. But in actuality, it’s the schools themselves and the NCAA as a whole, that is doing the defrauding.

If you remove the NCAA’s bogus rules on amateurism, because there’s nothing amateur about the close to $40 million that this year’s basketball national champion will generate as a result of them being featured on CBS’ One Shining Moment sign off, then where is the actual criminal case?


So what we have here is a multi-million dollar effort and years worth of FBI manpower used to empower and prop up the NCAA’s bogus rules around their refusal to pay the athletes that generate the revenue, while disallowing them from being compensated for their likeness, doing commercials or merely making a few bucks from their own autographs.

They can’t even have someone take them out to dinner without it being an NCAA rules infraction.

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Watch the extended game highlights of the National Championship game, as North Carolina takes home the trophy! Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

 

The NCAA’s got the sweetest cartel going since Pablo Escobar’s Medellin operation, with the government’s blessing.


So, some sneaker company execs are willing to shell out $100,000 to an elite recruit, hoping that the kid might one day turn into the next LeBron, Kyrie Irving or KD, i.e. a player with cultural currency that could make their signature shoes fly off of shelves, enhancing the company’s bloated bottom line.


But based on what the top college players bring into their university’s coffers, that $100,000 is a damn bargain.

And my question to the FBI and the NCAA is, how is that player, the sneaker company exec, the assistant coach or whoever else involved in the back alley, black market machinery that’s greasing the wheels of the game’s underbelly, perpetuating a fraud against the respective universities?

…The bottom line here is that the FBI investigation is a supreme waste of time and resources, stunningly used to keep college athletes, the majority of them African-American, from receiving a slice of the pie that they bake.

And therein lies the real scandal going on in college basketball. Anyone who tells you otherwise has an agenda.

…don’t lose sight of what’s really going down behind the scenes. Don’t believe the hype being sold on this so-called shocking scandal. And always count the money.



Because the real scandal is not the crumbs being offered to a few players.

It’s that the FBI is helping the NCAA to defraud the labor force whose talent and exploits feeds everyone else, except themselves.


And the NCAA is hell-bent on keeping it that way.  

***  

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College athletic departments across the country are now gearing up for what will inevitably be an NCAA enforcement investigation once the current trial is complete.



On the witness stand, Brian Bowen Sr. testified that the coach at his son’s boarding school, La Lumiere School in Indiana, paid him $2,000 a month. A Nike-sponsored youth team paid him $5,000 to $8,000. Another squad offered $18,000. 

In 2015, adidas agreed to pay him $25,000, just to get his then 16-year-old son to play on the shoe companys elite summer circuit.

During the college recruiting process, he says he was offered $150,000 from the likes of Texas, Creighton, Arizona and Oklahoma State. They ultimately decided on Louisville thanks to adidas $100,000 offer, and the thought that head coach Rick Pitino could best prepare him to be an NBA lottery pick after his freshman year. 

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6’7 5-star wing Brian “Tugs” Bowen has quietly become one of the top high school scorers in the nation. Hailing from Michigan, but attending La Lumiere Prep in LaPorte, IN, Bowen averaged 20.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a junior while playing a competitive national high school schedule.

 

Four college assistants are scheduled to stand separate trials next spring, and federal authorities could bring charges against others not yet arrested.



The prosecution and the defense in this current trial basically agree that adidas officials and an aspiring NBA agent arranged payments for the families of top college basketball recruits, which is a violation of NCAA amateurism rules. But the big question is, does breaking NCAA rules constitute a federal crime?

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More than $1 billion each year pours into the NCAA’s coffers. Louisville’s basketball team raked in $45 million last year for the school’s athletic department, and Pitino was earning a $7 million salary before he was fired.

News is also leaking of another sports agent providing money to people close to NBA players like the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma and the Philadelphia 76ers’ Markelle Fultz while they were still in college.

Munish Sood testified that he gave a $30,000 loan to someone connected to Fultz and also sent some cash to one of Kuzma’s associates while they were still playing at the University of Washington and the University of Utah, respectively. Sood said he made the payments at the request of NBA agent Stephen Pina of ASM Sports.

In August, Sood pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit bribery, honest services fraud and travel act offenses, payments of bribes to an agent of a federally funded organization and wire fraud conspiracy. He faces up to 35 years in prison.



Some payments have also been linked to former Alabama guard Collin Sexton, the No. 8 pick in June’s NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, with potential agents suggesting to compensate him at a rate of $1,500 per month while he was in school, providing $21,000 for travel expenses for his family and giving his brother a job that would pay him $170,000 over four years.

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Sood also said that he met Brian Bowen Sr. in a parking lot in northern New Jersey, where he passed along an envelope stuffed with $19,400 in cash.


More names and shoes will be dropping in the days to come. The FBI and the NCAA want to convince you that major crimes are being committed. Don’t believe it. Yes, cash is being exchanged, but it’s how the fair market system operates. 

And it is operating underground because the NCAA is holding onto its system of indentured servitude, knowing fully well that some of these elite basketball players have been working as unpaid spokesmen for shoe companies since they were 12 years old.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the real scandal is not the crumbs being offered to a few players.

It’s that the FBI is helping the NCAA to defraud the labor force whose talent and exploits feeds everyone else, except themselves.

And the NCAA is hell-bent on keeping it that way.  

Ali

Alejandro “Ali” Danois is the Editor-in-Chief of The Shadow League. His features “Humble Beginnings”, and “Rocky Flop” were mentioned in the Best American Sports Writing Anthology as among the country’s most notable stories of 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Ali is the author of the critically acclaimed book, The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, and he served as a Producer on the ESPN Films 30-for-30 documentary “Baltimore Boys”.

Follow him on twitter @alidanois