UM football coach Mark Richt weighs in on FBI probe into college basketball
The college basketball world was on edge Wednesday amid speculation that the federal probe of alleged corruption in their sport will expand far beyond the 10 arrests announced Tuesday in the most wide-sweeping exposure of cheating since the point-shaving scandals of the 1950s.
How many more people will the FBI take down? Which programs will be affected? Will coaches at the unnamed programs referred to in code in the indictments — including the University of Miami — be charged? What will happen to Adidas, the global sportswear company implicated in the sting? Will the NCAA get involved and slap down sanctions?
The first big shoe fell late Wednesday morning, when Louisville coach Rick Pitino was placed on unpaid administrative leave and athletic director Tom Jurich was placed on paid leave as a result of the investigation. Federal prosecutors charged that assistant coaches from at least four top-tier programs had solicited and accepted bribes from shoe company representatives to help attain elite high school recruits. Other schools could join the list before it’s all over.
Shoe companies have been funneling money to recruits, AAU coaches and rogue agents for decades. College assistants have been known to be on the take, as well, in exchange for using their influence to steer athletes to certain sports agents and financial advisers. The NCAA tries its best to police it. But they don’t have subpoena power, wire taps or federal informants.
The FBI does. And that is what makes Tuesday’s revelations so significant — and scary to those in the college basketball business.
“We have your playbook,” said New York FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney, announcing on Tuesday the findings of the 100-page indictment. “Our investigation is ongoing, and we are conducting additional interviews as we speak.”
UM head coach Jim Larrañaga met with his staff on Wednesday morning. None of the Hurricanes coaches have been charged, but the school and an unnamed Miami coach are implicated in the indictment as “University-7” and “Coach-3” in a section detailing wire-tapped discussions between an agent, an AAU coach and Adidas representatives who scheme, with the consent of the UM coach, they say, to solicit $150,000 from Adidas marketing director Jim Gatto to help secure a highly coveted recruit — believed to be Orlando’s Nassir Little.
Larrañaga’s attorney, Stuart Grossman, said his client had “zero involvement in any allegations of any impropriety.”
According to the report, it appears that Miami and Arizona, sponsored by Nike, were in a bidding war over Little, whose AAU coach, Jonathan Brad Augustine, was charged and arrested in the probe.
In a statement released Wednesday evening by University of Miami president Julio Frenk, he said “the University of Miami was not named in the indictments nor was any University employee charged or identified. However, we have confirmed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, at this time, it is investigating a potential tie to one member of our coaching staff and a student recruit.
“While we are alarmed and disappointed, we are steadfast in our belief that we must also act with the highest level of integrity and commitment to the pursuit of truth.” Frenk pledged the university’s full cooperation.
Arizona assistant coach Emanuel “Book” Richardson was one of the four coaches arrested on Tuesday, along with Tony Bland of Southern California, Chuck Person of Auburn and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State.
The phone calls implicating UM were between Aug. 9 and Aug. 12, according to the report. Little had announced that he had narrowed his college list to North Carolina, Duke, Miami, Arizona and Georgia Tech.
“James Gatto, aka Jim, and Merl Code (an Adidas employee), the defendants, spoke twice on telephone calls that were intercepted,” said the report of the Aug. 11 conversation. “During those calls, Gatto and Code discussed, among other things, Coach-3’s request to Gatto that Company-1 (Adidas) make a $150,000 payment to Player-12 in order to prevent him from committing to attend another NCAA Division I university sponsored by a rival athletic apparel company that allegedly had offered Player-12 a substantial sum of money.”
Later that day, they discussed whether the payment would be made “all in one lump sum,” whether it would be paid in 2017 or 2018, and whether the recruit would accept a payment of less than $150,000.
Gatto suggested to Code that he should “try to get it to … a 100,” which investigators took to mean $100,000. Code replied that he was not sure “they’ll take that much less, but if I can take it down at least twenty-five,” to which Gatto responded, “Alright, well, let’s just see.”
A day later, Code and Christian Dawkins, a sports agent also charged in the case, discussed the proposed bribe and Code said if “University-4 (believed to be Arizona) is willing” to pay the full $150,000, “then that’s where the kid is going to go.” Told that Gatto said he might not have enough money in 2017 to fulfill the request and asked if it could wait until 2018, Code said, “by that point, that number might be 200” and that Adidas “won’t play if it’s … at that level, we won’t play.”
Miami’s most recent high-profile recruits who signed with the school did not play for Adidas-sponsored AAU teams, although Dewan Huell of Norland High played for the Adidas U.S. Select U18 team and participated in the Adidas Eurocamp in Italy. Huell’s AAU team, Team Breakdown, wore Under Armour gear. Bruce Brown and Lonnie Walker played with Nike-affiliated AAU teams. Many top recruits of teams sponsored by various outfitters play in the Adidas Nation showcase tournament.
The FBI sting unearthed what is believed to be widespread corruption in the sport and could lead to major changes on the recruiting trail in years to come.
“For these men, bribing coaches was a business investment,” said Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “They knew corrupt coaches, in return for bribes, would pressure the players to use their services. They also knew that if and when those young players turned pro, that would mean big bucks for them.”
Those coaches showed little regard to the players’ interests, ignoring “red flags and seeing only the green of the cash bribes flowing their way,” Kim said.