Corruption ‘scandal’ is, unfortunately, business as usual for college hoops

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The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York dropped a bombshell on the college basketball world Tuesday morning.

Ten people, including four assistant coaches at major programs, financial planners, agents and decision-makers at Adidas, were arrested on fraud and corruption charges.

And frankly, those ten people are not the big deal.

This is a network of influencers that got caught up in the fallout when a financial planner that became a cooperating witness after he was caught by the Securities and Exchange Commission misusing more than $2.3 million of professional athlete’s money that he was charged with investing.

That financial planner, who is named Louis Martin Blazer III, and a runner named Christian Dawkins¬† allegedly worked with these four assistant coaches to line up potential clients for the agency that Dawkins worked for. “Worked with” is a friendly way to phrase it; Dawkins and Blazer, along with another financial planner, would allegedly line up bribes for the coaches in order for them to exert their influence on the athletes they coach. For a measly $2,000, you can (allegedly) get a meeting with a prospective client during a team’s road trip to West Virginia!

That’s not all that was in the three complaints that were filed on Tuesday.

Blazer was also in the room, along with an undercover FBI agent, when an alleged deal was struck between Jim Gatto, a powerful executive with Adidas, and Louisville coaches that – again, allegedly – facilitated the commitment of Brian Bowen, a five-star prospect, to the Cardinals. Louisville is sponsored by Adidas.

But that’s not what makes this burgeoning scandal such a black eye for the sport of college basketball.

This, from a still-undercover FBI agent, is: “Because this affidavit is being submitted for the limited purpose of establishing probable cause, it does not include all of the facts that I have learned during the court of the investigation.”

This, from U.S. Attorney Joon Kim, is, too: “Our investigation is ongoing. And we are currently conducting interviews.”

The FBI already has recordings. They have video tapes. They had an undercover agent embedded with Blazer sitting in on these meetings. They have hard evidence. This isn’t sloppy. There is no guess work here. There is a reason the Feds almost always get a conviction.

What else do they know?

What other coaches do they have on tape?

What other deals do they have on video?

Because the hard truth is this: Dawkins did not deal with just four coaches. Gatto did not deal only with Louisville. This may only be the beginning, and those that were arrested today haven’t even been interrogated yet. Blazer likely won’t end up being the only person involved in this investigation to become a witness.

The question now is whether or not this is something that the public at-large is going to be able to come to grips with. None of this information is new. We’ve known that shoe companies play a role in where many of the elite talents end up going to college. We’ve known that agents have relationships with different coaching staffs and AAU programs. And we’ve known that the NCAA’s artificial attempts to put a stop to basic economic principles – supply and demand, capitalism – and human instinct – greed – were always doomed to fail.

Now look at the schools that have been caught up in this scandal already. Book Richardson was an assistant coach at Arizona, who is a preseason top-three team in college basketball. USC, where Tony Bland is an assistant coach, is a preseason top-ten team. Lamont Evans is now an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, but he was previously at South Carolina, who is tied up in the complaints just five months after reaching their first Final Four. Auburn, a school that has a scandal-plagued history with the NCAA, is where Chuck Person is employed by Bruce Pearl, who has his own NCAA history to deal with.

And that is before we get into Louisville, an historically-great program with a Hall of Fame head coach that is currently, as we speak, in the midst of an appeal regarding the NCAA sanctions they were given for a scandal that involved an assistant coach paying for hookers and strippers for recruits. That could end up costing Louisville their 2012 Final Four and their 2013 National Title.

North Carolina isn’t mentioned in any of the complaints, but they are the reigning champions and currently facing their own NCAA ordeal, one that could cost them the 2005 national title.

This is college basketball

This is how it works.

And for those involved, this is only the start.

In the immortal words of Lester Freamon, when you follow the money, you don’t know where it’s going to take you.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.