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The FBI, college basketball, and what we know right now.

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It’s all ball movement and boxing out until the Feds show up.
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Admittedly, this site probably doesn’t pay enough attention to what’s going on in the college basketball world, and especially not between the months of July and November, when Sanford Stadium becomes the center of the universe and of Dawg Sports coverage.

But when the FBI comes for Auburn basketball, we’re wiling to make an exception.

The sports world is afire this morning with news that the Feds have arrested several college basketball assistant coaches and an executive with Adidas in relation to charges of bribery. You can find the first criminal Complaint here, but in a nutshell the individuals in question are accused of offering and receiving money in exchange for steering promising high school players toward various agents, advisors, and at least one sports apparel company.

The end game would be for these players to stick with those individuals once they make it big in the pros. In this respect it’s not very different from other college sports scandals of yore, such as the one in which an agent allegedly took care of USC tailback Reggie Bush and his family in hopes of signing Bush to a management deal when he turned pro.

The big difference here is that Deputy Fife of the NCAA enforcement division is not on the trail of the offenders. It’s the G-Men. Why is that different? Warrants. Subpoenas. Wire taps, bank records, and the spectre of jail time. Investigators who can’t be convinced to leak information in exchange for a decent steak dinner.

What we know so far

At least ten NCAA assistant basketball coaches have been arrested or charged, along with Adidas’s head of sports marketing, Jim Gatto.

Of note for SEC fans is that Chuck Person, a former Auburn standout and Auburn associate head coach, is also among the persons of interest. The evidence against Person already looks pretty bad, including this transcript of a recorded conversation.

Remember, if Auburn is winning, Auburn is cheating. And even if they aren’t winning, it’s only because they’re not always great at cheating despite 100 years of experience.

Louisville also appears to figure prominently in the investigation. Because allegations of assistant coaches procuring prostitutes for players was just the appetizer.

What we don’t know

We do not know whether this will be the end of the arrests. But I suspect the answer is emphatically “no.” That means that there could be more schools involved. Honestly, if I were a fan of a perennial college basketball powerhouse, especially one with ties to Adidas, I’d be terrified.

Obviously it’s been some time since Georgia won a recruiting battle for a sure-fire NBA lottery pick player. I’m not saying this ugliness couldn’t come to Athens, I’m just saying there are certainly benefits to having a coach like Mark Fox who has a reputation for stubbornly refusing to play the recruiting game.

We also don’t know whether additional coaches at the schools already involved will be a part of this. Honestly, as an attorney who has done federal criminal defense work, I think the end game here is to go after prominent head coaches. The government has picked up the people they have the goods on.

As we all know, the first rule of college athletic cheating is that the head coach is not supposed to know about any of it. But the feds will now be squeezing the first round of defendants to cut a deal in exchange for naming names and testimony about the logistics of this operation. I expect that some college basketball head coaches have been called into the University President’s office this morning for a meeting. There’s probably an attorney there, too. Remember, in recent investigations the NCAA has signaled that it will be holding head coaches accountable for their assistants’ misdeeds. We’re about to see how serious they are about that.

Another angle to watch going forward? What other apparel companies other than Adidas are ensnared? Because I think it’s very likely that at least one athlete/family member/hanger-on has gone to Nike, Under Armour, or Russell (the other major outfitters in college basketball) and said “the nice man from Adidas offered us $----. What can you do?” If the answer to that question was anything other than “Nothing. Best of luck to you in your future endevaors. Gotta go.” then somebody is going to get an unwelcome visit from some nice folks in suits who specialize in carrying computers out of peoples’ homes in evidence bags.

The bottom line

I adhere 100% to the conclusion of my SB Nation colleague Steven Godfrey. No matter who you are, your favorite team has players who are getting paid by someone. A booster. An agent. A corporate exec. There’s just too much money to be made in pro sports for entrepreneurial types not to try to get their claws into the next big thing before he or she becomes the next big thing. What we’re seeing today is the first act in what is likely to be a long and embarrassing saga. The schadenfreude is likely to flow like wine on this one, at least until the imbiber’s own school shows up in the headlines. Until later...

Go ‘Dawgs!!!