Daily News

Burning questions about the NCAA basketball corruption scandal

September 29, 2017

Evan Grossman

Rick Pitino is probably not going to jail, according to one lawyer.

In fact, Richard Roth, a trial attorney at the Roth Law Firm, said if the FBI had anything at all on Pitino, the feds would have mentioned his name in the explosive investigation into college basketball bribery and corruption announced this week.

“Rick Pitino is a big name,” Roth told the Daily News. “My guess is they looked very hard at him. But if they had something on him already, they would have nailed him.”

Instead, Pitino’s name is not mentioned in the indictment. Louisville is not mentioned by name either, yet Pitino is out of a job, it seems. The coach was placed on indefinite, unpaid leave this week amid stunning allegations that several NCAA basketball teams helped to funnel money from sneaker companies and professionals like financial advisors to recruits and their families. Some assistant coaches are accused of taking bribes from agents to steer players to them when they turn pro.

Pitino was not one of the 10 people who were actually arrested as part of the probe. Louisville administrators admitted the school is part of the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office made it clear it is not done digging and it will keep going, and what the feds turn up is anyone’s guess.

“My belief is if they had Rick Pitino, they would have named him,” Roth said. “As much as the investigation is continuing, my gut says they have pretty much gotten everything as it relates to what the coaches did and what the coaches knew. Certainly at Louisville … they have wiretapped telephone conversations, they have video, tapes of meetings, and in all this stuff they have, which is a lot, none of it implicates Pitino. My gut is if they could have nailed that big fish, they would have done so in the first go-around.”

One of the indictments references a “Coach-2,” who ABC and CBS have identified as Pitino, but again, if the feds had anything on the two-time NCAA champion, they would have loved to have hauled in Pitino, too.

This is a complicated mess. Here are all the burning questions and what you need to know:

What laws do the FBI say were broken here?

There are two sets of charges. In the first, the government alleges that assistant coaches at Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and USC took bribes to direct their players to certain sports agents. That’s a crime. In the second, the FBI says James Gatto, an Adidas executive, sent “six-figure” payments to recruits in exchange for them committing to schools affiliated with the brand. That’s also illegal.

Really, what’s the big deal? Did anyone get hurt?

Bribery of any kind is illegal. To pay under-the-table money in any business, without disclosing it, is a crime.

Does it matter that some of these schools are public?

It does not appear that money was coming from schools or government institutions. But as state employees, assistant coaches may have been going outside of their employers to earn money and could be subject to termination. If they were making money on the side and not reporting it, that may also be another issue.

“If these employees are getting cash under the table, it’s a school issue, it’s an NCAA issue, and it’s the definition of bribery,” Roth said. “You’re paying someone to influence their decisions independent of objective factors, which means they’re being bribed.”

USC is a private institution.

Where does the NCAA stand on this?

The FBI informed the NCAA of its investigation Tuesday when they let the rest of the world know about it. In many ways, the FBI is doing the NCAA’s job in cleaning up college hoops.

“The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior. Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust. We learned of these charges this morning and of course will support the ongoing criminal federal investigation.”

The worst part of this is how college coaches allegedly took advantage of impressionable kids only to enrich themselves.

“If they are getting paid money to steer athletes to agents and financial advisors, they are obligated to tell the players and families they are getting paid to tell them which people to link up with,” Roth said.

“If the coaches are receiving bribes from financial advisors to lead these people to them, it’s an illegal bribe. You have to disclose it. You have to tell the basketball player or the player’s family what their motivation is.”

Aren’t bribes and influence part of the game of big-time college athletics or any business for that matter?

“Some people say it’s the way of the world,” Roth said. “It really isn’t way of the world. Could you imagine if it was so crazy that every decision is motivated not by what’s in the best interests of these kids, but what’s in the best interest of the person telling them what to do?”

The other side of it seems less of a crime and more like getting paid for your services. If a player’s family gets money to play at a certain school from a shoe company affiliated with that school, what’s the crime in that?

“That’s illegal,” Roth said. “You have to be transparent. A school can’t use money to bribe them to come to school. Nor can Adidas use money to pay them to sign with Adidas.”

It may sound corny, but it’s wrong to bribe a family to come to a college.

“The whole college admissions process is about merit, scholarly merit or basketball merit,” Roth said. “It’s inappropriate (to pay someone to come to your school). It’s illegal.”

What’s the difference then between a bribe and a legal finder’s fee for connecting two people in business?

A finder’s fee is disclosed. A bribe is not.

“An assistant coach should not receive money from anyone to influence their decision,” Roth said. “They are paid employees of the school. They can’t get money under the table. If they were independent, that would be one thing, but these guys were coaches of these kids. They’re mentors to these kids, and when you tell a kid, ‘Go to this financial planner,’ or, ‘Go to this sports company because they’re good advisors and they’ll make you money,’ you have an obligation to tell them you took money under the table.

“The school will fire them because they’re working outside of their employer, they’re moving kids to these financial planners not because they think it’s in their best interests, it’s because they’re getting money,” he said. “It’s the definition of bribery.”

What happens now? What happens to the people who were arrested this week?

“My gut says they wanted a big fish, Pitino, but they didn’t have enough on him,” Roth said. “But assistant coaches are pretty big fish, too, at these schools. They could do jail time. They’re certainly going to lose their jobs. They’re certainly going to be outcasts. They’re going to be looked at as convicted felons if they lose and it’s very hard to get back into society.”

Will they go to prison?

Maybe. “They’re going to lose their jobs,” Roth said. “They could do time. Some are worse than others. It’s a function of how pervasive they were in the scheme. Did they recruit or influence one player or 20 players? How much money is involved in it? How pervasive the scheme is, how much money was involved, how many people were involved, how long did it last?

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