Amateur athletics may have just been irrevocably destroyed.
An elaborate FBI sting operation unearthed deep corruption in college basketball programs and the shoe companies that supply them.
Even though the shockwave is over, the fallout is just beginning.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich are the first big-name casualties in the FBI investigation, but they certainly won’t be the last.
Even though Pitino has claimed ignorance to the wrongdoing, a recent report alleges he was the unnamed Louisville who facilitated the misconduct.
The punishments are severe, so it’s only a matter of time before the accused start singing like canaries.
From Sports Illustrated:
If convicted on all counts, the defendants…could face maximum sentences ranging from 50 to 80 years in prison.
While the NCAA is not a party in these prosecutions, its system of college sports is certainly at the heart of them. The complaints repeatedly refer to the NCAA itself and “relevant” NCAA rules. It is from the NCAA’s system of amateurism that the criminal investigation became possible: law enforcement became aware various persons broke NCAA rules in ways that violated criminal law.
If the NCAA had adopted a system where players were compensated for their labor and compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness, perhaps all or some of these “under the table” payments would not have occurred. We’ll never know. But some will ask.
Along those lines, the fact that such extensive corruption allegedly occurred raises questions as to whether the NCAA is even capable of stopping any of it. The NCAA, like any organization, has a limited bandwidth. Further, since it is a private actor, the NCAA lacks subpoena powers and other investigatory capabilities enjoyed by law enforcement.
The individual schools implicated in the prosecutions—including Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona, USC and Louisville—are also impacted by the trajectory of these cases. Employees of their schools are now accused of partaking in conduct that violates criminal law and NCAA rules. It stands to reason the NCAA could, and no doubt will, investigate the criminal cases and potentially impose sanctions on those schools.
The schools might also worry about civil liability associated with criminal acts committed by employees, as well as repercussions with their insurance companies. It stands to reason that a recruited player who loses his NCAA eligibility as a result of this criminal investigation could consider suing the recruiting school as well as others involved.
Adidas is also impacted. One of its well-known executives, Gatto, is now a defendant in a criminal case in which he is accused of peddling his position with the apparel company to advance a criminal enterprise. Even if other sneaker company executives partake in similar kinds of misconduct, Adidas is the one with an executive who faces charges.
That dynamic could damage the brand and the confidence placed in it by company investors. Also, given that Adidas is a publicly traded company, allegations against an Adidas executive might attract the unwanted attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
All of these associated parties would likely be pleased if the defendants strike plea deals to end the cases as soon as possible. The NCAA, universities and Adidas all know the longer these cases drag out, the more likely compromising evidence will surface, whether that occurs through subpoenas, warrants or the pretrial discovery process.
It’s possible many names, including of significant figures in college sports, will come to light and in unflattering ways. To that end, it seems quite possible head coaches and athletic department officials of implicated schools may have been aware of an assistant coach’s wrongdoing.
Further, executives at the related universities and Adidas could all be called to testify in forums that damage their associated brands.
It seems highly unlikely this probe won’t spread to college football. When athletic directors get ensnared, all bets are off.
Critics of college athletics have been pushing for athletes to get paid forever. This could be the catalyst they need to get their wish.
However, that could bring on unforeseen problems. Plus, most proponents of paying athletes recommend a reasonable stipend or no proscriptions on licensing one’s own name.
But as this case has shown, some top-flight athletes are getting close to a quarter-million dollars, or more.
Will heavy regulation solve the problem? More likely, it will exacerbate it.