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Bombshells in opening statements of college basketball corruption trial

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We knew there were going to be fireworks during the trials for the eight men facing wire fraud charges stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, and day one did not disappoint.

The defense attorney for Jim Gatto, a former Adidas executive accused of funneling money from the apparel company to recruits and their families, acknowledged that her client had more or less done all of the above.

According to Casey Donnelly, Gatto did facilitate a payment of $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen because “Oregon, a Nike school, offered [Bowen] an astronomical amount of money if he’d go to Oregon.” Bowen was never cleared and eventually turned pro before heading to Australia for this season.

Donnelly admitted that Gatto paid $40,000 to the family of Dennis Smith Jr. while the current Dallas Maverick was playing at N.C. state. She said that Gatto paid $20,000 to Silvio De Sousa, who played for Kansas during the second semester last season, because “Under Armour had paid for De Sousa to [commit] to the University of Maryland.” Donnelly then confirmed that Gatto was also involved in the discussions surrounding the recruitment of Nassir Little, who Adidas was considered paying to attend Miami after the player was “offered” $150,000 by Arizona. Little has since enrolled at North Carolina.

Donnelly did not specifically say who requested that Gatto make those payments, simply stating that he was working based off of what the coaches wanted.

Those quotes alone are enough to make headlines around the internet, but they aren’t the story of the first day of the trail.

The story is this: “Jim Gatto broke NCAA rules,” Donnelly said. “NCAA rules are not laws.”

This is the defense that Gatto’s attorney will be mounting. Their game-plan appears to be throwing the sport under the bus, showing how corrupt the world of high-major recruiting is, how pervasive breaking NCAA rules has become all while emphasizing one, simple point: The coaching staffs at these universities and, thus, the universities themselves wanted these things to happen. They weren’t victims of fraud. They were complicit, willing participants that happily kept their head in the sand as they profited off of the free labor Gatto and company provided them.

And they’re right.

The FBI and the Southern District of New York should not be in charge of enforcing the NCAA’s draconian amateurism rules. There are elements in this case that are worthy of investigation. Coaches taking bribes to funnel kids to financial advisors they don’t know, that have a history of defrauding clients, should be cleaned up. (Read: Person, Chuck.) But it’s genuinely baffling to me that there are smart, important federal investigators that believe college athletes capitalizing on a percentage of their true value on the open market while still “amateurs” is worthy of their time, resources or man-power.

Truthfully, they should’ve spent their time investigating whether or not it’s legal for the NCAA and the universities that make up the NCAA to artificially cap players’ earning power to ensure that all the money goes to the schools and rich decision-makers.

But that’s besides the point.

The story from Day 1 of the first trial of the college basketball corruption scandal is that Jim Gatto and his lawyer are going to freely and willfully toss around names and identify who he worked with, what players he paid and what coaches requested that it happen.

That matters, because of this rule change the NCAA announced in August: “People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law [or] government agency.”

Any evidence that turns up during this trial or any of the other trials stemming from this FBI investigation can be used by the NCAA to punish people breaking their by-laws.

So if you are a coach and you worked with Gatto, Dawkins or Code during the period when this investigation was happening, you should be worried.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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

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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

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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.