With March Madness finally underway, the FBI’s investigation into college basketballpotentially could make this year’s men’s basketball tournament as remarkable for what happens off the court as on it.
Last September, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted 10 men, including active assistant basketball coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC, plus an adidas executive. Prosecutors say they accepted $100,000 to $150,000 in bribe money to steer players to certain advisers and representatives of a shoe company (reportedly adidas) to persuade high school players to attend particular colleges and universities.
Other such dominant basketball schools as Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, and North Carolina also have been named in various reports.
Then, on Feb. 23, Yahoo! Sports dropped a bombshell, reporting that documents and bank records obtained during the federal investigation list cash advances plus entertainment and travel expenses for high school and college prospects and their families.
“Yahoo Sports viewed hundreds of pages of documents from the years-long probe that had federal authorities monitoring multiple targets and intercepting more than 4,000 calls across 330 days, providing a clear-eyed view into the pervasive nature of the game’s underground economy,” the site reported. “While three criminal cases tied to the investigation may take years to play out, the documents viewed by Yahoo revealed the extent of the potential NCAA ramifications from the case. The documents show an underground recruiting operation that could create NCAA rules issues — both current and retroactive — for at least 20 Division I basketball programs and more than 25 players.
Two days later, ESPN reported that “FBI wiretaps intercepted telephone conversations betweenArizona coach Sean Miller and Christian Dawkins, a key figure in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, in which Miller discussed paying $100,000 to ensure star freshman Deandre Ayton signed with the Wildcats.”
This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament could be the end of March Madness as we know it, prompting Forbes.com writer Mike Ozanian to ask a critical question: “Will ratings and ad dollars continue to be strong for March Madness if star players and teams miss the tournament? This year, that will likely depend in part if fans care more about star players and brand teams, or Cinderella stories. Long term, it may depend on whether or not the scandal leads to the NCAA getting its house in order.”
“This is just the beginning,” predicted The New York Post. “More programs will face accusations. More players will be forced to deny receiving benefits from agents. And it doesn’t sound like the NCAA is planning to make any of these schools ineligible for postseason play, creating even more confusion. What happens if news drops during the actual tournament. Will players be held out of Sweet 16 games? Will a coach be on the bench for the first round and not the second? A March like we’ve never seen is almost upon us.”