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Remember that sweeping FBI probe of college basketball from 2017-19 that would uncover “the dark underbelly” of the pay-for-play, corrupt sport?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, though, ended up being more like the Federal Bureau of Exaggeration.
A lengthy Los Angeles Times investigative piece published over the weekend went deep into how a sloppy FBI conducted its probe.
If you remember, it was on Sept. 26, 2017, that the FBI held what seemed like organized crime raids around the country because of a different kind of madness not always in March.
With guns blazing, they arrested four assistant coaches – Auburn’s Chuck Person, USC’s Anthony Bland, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson. They arrested three agent runners – Christian Dawkins, Munish Sood and Rachan Michel. They arrested Adidas executive James Gatto and two Adidas consultants – Merl Code and Jonathan Brad Augustine.
FBI Boasted Of A Major Impact On College Basketball
The FBI charged the coaches with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery and the others with bribery payments, bribery conspiracy and fraud. The bribes centered on the coaches accepting money to push their players to certain financial advisors with cash also getting to players.
“We have your playbook,” FBI assistant director William Sweeney famously said at a press conference in Manhattan, New York. “Today’s charges detail a corrupt practice in which highly rated high school and college basketball players were steered toward lucrative business deals with agents, advisors, and an international athletics apparel company. As alleged, NCAA Division I and AAU coaches created a pay-to-play culture, agreeing to provide access to their most valuable players while also effectively exerting their influence over them.”
Prosecutors proclaimed the FBI’s effort in court filings as “arguably the biggest and most significant federal investigation and prosecution of corruption in college athletics,” the Times reported.
“Today’s arrests should also serve as a warning to those who conduct business this way in the world of college athletics,” Sweeney said.
That last part? It didn’t. Just two years after multiple corruption trials put some of the above in jail briefly, pay-for-play became NCAA legal via Name, Image & Likeness. That was supposed to be a cleaner system, but it too has been corrupted.
“Six years later, the operation that was supposed to expose college basketball’s “dark underbelly” didn’t transform the sport,” the L.A. Times story says. “No head coaches or administrators were charged. There wasn’t a public outcry.”
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player who is an attorney, delivers one of the best quotes in the story.
“It seemed like bringing in the National Guard to deal with jaywalkers,” he said. “It damaged people’s lives over nothing. At the end of the day, all it did is make a lot of noise without a lot of result.”
Well, “over nothing” is a bit of an exaggeration as well, Jay. Since Bilas played the game, he probably doesn’t want to admit how dirty a game it can be, even at Duke.
FBI’s Lead Agent Had A Drinking Problem, L.A. Times Says
The Times devotes much of its story to sharing what it gleaned about the drinking of FBI agent Scott Carpenter, who headed up the investigation. This happened in Vegas when Carpenter gambled away $13,500 meant to be used for undercover bribes to FBI targets in college basketball. The story says Carpenter was eventually taken off the case, entered an alcohol treatment center, pleaded guilty to conversion of government money, and was fired. OK, many coaches and FBI staff probably have drinking issues. It is a high stress job.
In the end, Carpenter could fit well into the world he was investigating. He could have been a heck of a recruiter the way he threw money around. But all he got was three months of home confinement and had to pay the money back.
Dawkins, meanwhile, will finish his 18-month sentence in May. He was convicted of fraud and for paying bribes to the assistant coaches to influence their players toward agents or financial advisors.
Instead of the promised major dragnet of a sport, the Times concludes that, “the meandering government effort seemed at times like an investigation searching for a crime, marshalling vast resources to ultimately round up an assortment of low-level figures for alleged wrongdoing.”
No matter how much Carpenter drank and gambled, though, he did receive mostly strong reviews from his superiors for his work on the case. Corrupt coaches – low level or not – got caught. So did the sordid hangers-on who have soiled the sport for decades. Some went to jail. They were also fired, and their careers were ruined, at least for now. But that’s what happens in a corrupt sport or a corrupt business.
The story also made a point of saying that the FBI went after black coaches. Person, Evans, Richardson and Bland are all black. The truth, though, is that many of the top assistant coaches in college basketball who do most of the recruiting have historically been black. Many of those have risen to become head coaches, but many top assistants remain black. So, if the FBI is going to look into basketball recruiting and the targets end up being black, it is not because the FBI is racist.
FBI Uncovered LSU Coach Will Wade’s Recruiting Violations
The biggest catches by the FBI’s probe of college basketball were white head coaches, though. None of these coaches were charged, tried, sentenced or jailed. But they were fired, and their careers plummeted. And this very significant part of the probe is not in the L.A. Times story.
The FBI bagged LSU basketball coach Will Wade big time on federal wiretap. While talking to Dawkins on tape, he famously discussed making a “strong-ass offer” to then-star high school basketball player Javonte Smart of the Baton Rouge area.
Also on tape with Dawkins, Wade bragged about buying other players while discussing a player he was buying. The NCAA was already investigating Wade since before he arrived at LSU, but the FBI clearly helped that along. In the end, the NCAA uncovered many other “strong-ass offers” and hammered Wade with five Level 1 (most serious) violations last March.
LSU COACH WILL WADE’S CHEATING IN DETAIL
The NCAA said Wade’s “cheating” was “planned, schemed and purposeful.”
LSU quickly fired Wade, and his once-soaring, though dirty, coaching career was derailed. He could come back, though. Only 40, Wade was just named head coach at McNeese State, a small college in Lake Charles, Louisiana. But it is Division I, barely.
McNeese athletic director Heath Schroyer knows he will likely inherit significant show-cause penalties for the McNeese basketball program from Wade once the NCAA makes its final ruling perhaps this summer. Wade appeared before the NCAA last month. But Shroyer is desperate. McNeese State has had 11 straight losing seasons and 15 out of 17. Wade is desperate to coach again, too, and must know he is about to get the NCAA hammer. Or he wouldn’t be going to McNeese State for $200,000 a year. He made $2 million a year at LSU.
FBI Investigation Led To Head Coaches’ Firings
Arizona coach Sean Miller was heard on tape talking about buying a player. He was fired. He is now the coach at lesser Xavier.
Louisville fired coach Rick Pitino after the FBI uncovered a conspiracy involving Adidas and a $100,000 payment to a top recruit’s family with a promise that that player would sign with Adidas once he turned pro. Pitino downsized to Iona.
No, the FBI did not have college basketball’s playbook. Only some scattered pages. And it wasted a lot of money and gambled with $13,500 of it. But at least the FBI toned down some of the biggest cheaters and got them out of the big time where they don’t belong.
Are are there other coaches at major programs still cheating, even with NIL? Yes.
And maybe a more clean and sober, smarter and smaller FBI investigation in the near future can deliver what college basketball and college football really needs. That would be a hard and professional FBI investigation into NIL and all its corruption.
One CommentLeave a Reply
It was, and still is, a perfect example of using Federal resources to fix a small, irrelevant issue that has nothing to do with civil rights, crime, or people’s daily lives. And if you recall, it was done right around the time Obama was also using the IRS to go after political enemies while ignoring the rampant insider trading and hedging on Wall Street. In other words, just another smokescreen