It’s official: Breaking the NCAA’s amateurism bylaws, as dumb, as hypocritical and as criminal as they may be, is now a federal crime.
That’s the biggest takeaway that we can make after the three defendants in the first trial stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball were found guilty on Wednesday.
Former Adidas executive Jim Gatto was convicted on three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Another former Adidas executive, Merl Code, was convicted on two counts, as was Christian Dawkins, a runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller and an aspiring financial advisor.
Barring a victory on appeal, those three men are now convicted felons, family men that have had their lives irrevocably ruined, because they committed the egregious sin of paying basketball players what they’re worth.
The victims in this case?
The schools themselves, which is laughable and ludicrous to anyone that has any concept of the way that college athletics operates. It is a billion-dollar business that does not pay their laborers a fair market value because they want to keep a tax exempt status which helps ensure that the money flowing in stays with the institutions, not to mention the decision-makers that want their seven-figure salaries to remain intact.
Most of the people that pay attention to college sports know that amateurism is a farce. From what I can tell, college sports fans in general have come full-circle on the pay-the-players debate. We all know the players are the highest level of college basketball are worth more than the full cost of attendance scholarship they get. Most of us are cool with the idea that these kids — whether it be via an agent, a financial advisor, a shoe company, a coach, a booster — are getting something on the side to tide them over until they can turn pro, even if it goes against NCAA rules.
The problem that the defense ran into here, and the reason that this guilty verdict was all-but inevitable, was that the NCAA’s bylaws were never on trial here.
The judge in this case, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, made sure of it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today because the government alleges that Jim Gatto committed two federal offenses when Adidas took a tiny portion of the money that it brought in and shared it with the families of the players on the court,” Kaplan told the court out of earshot of the jury, according to CBS Sports. “Now, the purpose of this trial is not to determine whether the NCAA amateurism rules are good or bad. It has nothing to do with it.”
“It was my view, and it remains my view, that the introduction by counsel for Mr. Gatto of the issue of the wisdom and impact of those rules on college players and others doesn’t belong in this courtroom,” he added. “It belongs in the NCAA or the halls of Congress or in the boardrooms of universities. It has no proper bearing on this case. It doesn’t matter if they were children of Bill Gates or of welfare mothers. That’s not the issue.”
It doesn’t matter if amateurism bylaws are unconstitutional. It doesn’t matter that artificially capping the income that an athlete is able to make is wrong. It doesn’t matter that the idea of the NCAA profiting off of the likeness of these players, selling ad-space any and everywhere that they can while using the NCAA tournament to fund their entire operations, while simultaneously punishing them for capitalizing on their talent — through selling autographs, through endorsement deals, through $100 handshakes with boosters happy they dropped 20 on a rival — is evil, hypocritical and worthy of an FBI investigation in its own right.
After all, if Adidas could pay the players directly, would they have any incentive to pay Kansas $191 million over 12 years? That’s the parameters of the new sponsorship deal that the University of Kansas has yet to sign. And that’s small compared to what other programs got; UCLA and Under Armour agreed to a sponsorship deal with $280 million over 15 years.
Why pay the programs to outfit 13 scholarship basketball players and 85 scholarship football players when they just want the stars? Why spend $16 million annually on the entire program when they could spend half of that and get every national name at the school wearing their brand independently?
But that is not what was on trial.
By the letter of the law, they committed wire fraud.
That’s what was presented to the jury, a group of New Yorkers that were naïve — by design — to the way that the college sports world works.
And Kansas is all the proof you need.
Silvio De Sousa is a sophomore on the Jayhawk basketball team. He enrolled at Kansas a semester early after Billy Preston was unable to get cleared to play due in large part to $90,000 that was funneled to his mother by Gassnola, Gatto and Code. De Sousa only went to Kansas after it was agreed that the three ex-execs would send $20,000 to De Sousa’s guardian to get him out for a payment he accepted from a Maryland booster to get De Sousa to follow his fellow-Angolan, Bruno Fernando, to College Park.
Once the NCAA gets around to this case, De Sousa will, in all likelihood, be ruled retroactively ineligible.
And when he is, Kansas will have to vacate every game that he played in.
De Sousa played as Kansas made a run to last year’s Final Four.
That banner will be coming down. Those wins will be erased from the record books. The money Kansas earned from that tournament run — money that the players don’t see a cut of — will be returned.
And De Sousa’s college basketball career, and his best chance at getting drafted in the NBA, is all-but toast because of money that was changing hands above his head. Did his guardian, Fenny Falmagne, tell De Sousa why he played for an Under Armour-sponsored AAU program, an Under Armour-sponsored high school program and was scheduled to follow Fernando to an Under Armour-sponsored college team? Did he tell De Sousa what he was receiving as De Sousa was shuttled off to Kansas a semester early?
Did Brian Bowen know that his dad was getting paid by everyone under the sun while he was in high school? Did he know that he lost his chance to play college basketball and was forced to turn pro in Australia because Adidas wanted to pay his father $100,000 for the son to go to Louisville?
I doubt it.
Every public statement says as much.
But what does it matter.
The schools are the ones that are the victims here.