The U.S. Justice Department has arrested ten men. The group includes four college basketball coaches and one global marketing director for Adidas basketball.
What was their crime?
The charges involve “the dark underbelly of college basketball.”
Almost 25 years ago, the U.S. DOJ (Department of Justice) went after the N.C.A.A. for giving secret payments to college athletes. In 1993, Norby Walters was prosecuted for giving players money and cars to try to get them to choose him as their agent when they left college. Walters was a Hollywood entertainer’s representative who wanted to break into the sports world.
Most of the players did not choose Walters. He was charged and convicted of engaging in a scheme to defraud the universities of the scholarships paid to ineligible players.
However, the Court of Appeals (Seventh Circuit, Chicago) overturned his conviction. It found that the universities payment of scholarships was in fact not a fraud perpetrated by Walters.
The court also tried to make a point that the government can’t make a crime out of failing to follow NCAA rules. It wanted to make sure our government didn’t operate on the “theory that makes criminals of cheaters.”
Basketball Coaches Charged with College Basketball Fraud and Corruption Schemes
But they’re trying again. The DOJ arrested the 10 individuals in September 2017. This time, they are hoping to portray college basketball as a corrupt political machine bent on making good the future of rising basketball stars.
According to The New York Times, the charges they are using against these coaches involve the federal bribery statute. It applies to state and local officials, government employees, the honest services law, and the travel act.
Here in Michigan, we are likely to be familiar with these laws. They are the ones which put former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in prison for taking illicit payments in exchange for directing government benefits to a select group.
The way they are attempting to apply these laws to basketball coaches is through a 1984 law. This law was made to help police both local government and private organizations that receive federal funding. It makes employees at private universities essentially public employees.
The bribery statute makes it illegal for officials to accept anything of value “intending to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business, transaction or series of transactions” of the organization employing them.
In any case, prosecutors will have to show that coaches misused their authority over a player in connection with the business of the university. In addition, if they can prove they influenced players through a personal relationship with them, it will be hard for the DOJ to prove its case.
Paying high school players to attend the universities which had contracts with Adidas might be dirty. However, it might not be able to be proven to be a fraud, based on the Appeals Court’s decision on the Norby Walters case.
There is no question we have seen money and privileges change hands to direct athletes and make them successful stars. It makes money for all the universities and companies involved.
However, can we really make the case that the government should regulate college basketball? Additionally, if it can, where will it stop? What do you think?