Controversy is nothing new to college basketball. Debates rage over whether collegiate athletes should be paid and how many years of school they must attend before going pro, but college basketball’s latest scandal has huge ramifications legally and on the future of the sport.
The scandal stemmed from an FBI investigation into the underbelly of college basketball, the recruiting process, and it culminated in the arrest of two high-profile representatives of Adidas and a number of coaches, as well as numerous other agents and financial advisors.
The recruiting process of college sports has long been a shady subject, as colleges, agents and brand-name representatives all try to convince high school athletes to sign deals with them. However, high school and collegiate athletes are amateurs, meaning they are technically not eligible to receive payment.
“Dirty recruiting tactics were the worst-kept secret in college sports. Even the most naïve fan knew that a day of reckoning was coming, when the house of cards built by apparel companies, agents, financial advisers, shady coaches, and handlers of big-time recruits would all come crashing down,” wrote Mark Titus on The Ringer.
As Titus indicated, most college basketball fans are not surprised to hear of a scandal concerning recruiting tactics. However, the NCAA often seems to turn a blind eye to infractions at prestigious programs because of the attention and revenue they bring.
Jerry Tarkanian coached college basketball for 31 years, and he often questioned the selective enforcement of rules by the NCAA. “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it will probably slap another two years of probation on Cleveland State,” he said, suggesting the NCAA wanted to avoid punishing the best teams.
The involvement of the FBI drastically changes the repercussions of the scandal. The three-year investigation revealed several assistant coaches received bribes from sportswear companies, primarily Adidas, to encourage the athletes to sign with particular agents and advisors. At the same time, James Gatto, Director of Global Sports Marketing for Adidas, was also arrested for paying high school athletes to commit to Adidas-affiliated college programs; the bribes were as much as $100,000.
The NCAA was not a part of the investigation but were made aware of the charges as the FBI announced them on Sept. 24, and NCAA president Mark Emmert pledged the NCAA’s full support as the investigation continues.
“The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing,” Emmert said in a statement. “We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior. Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust.”
Seven coaches have now been fired or suspended indefinitely, and the most notable fallout of the college basketball world occurred at Louisville. Head coach Rick Pitino was fired, and five-star recruit Brian Bowen was suspended for being one of the players named in the FBI report who took a massive bribe from Gatto.