Wire fraud is wrong, but that doesn’t make the first NCAA corruption trial verdict right.
Today, a jury convicted three men on seven counts of wire fraud in the first of a series of trials stemming from the FBI’s probe into corruption in NCAA College Basketball. The New York jury found Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code, and “agent” Christian Dawkins guilty of wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Over the course of the case, the prosecution painted a picture in which three men motivated by greed and funded by a shoe giant Adidas lured recruits to Adidas-affiliated schools with promises of cash payments. As a result of these tactics, Gatto, Code and Dawkins defrauded three “victim schools” — Louisville, Kansas, and N.C. State — by rendering cash payments to recruits, thus making them ineligible under the NCAA’s Amateurism Bylaws concerning Improper Benefits. And now these men face sentencing for federal wire fraud that could mean years in prison because they orchestrated payments to college athletes.
When asked about the verdict, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim offered a blunt response:
It doesn’t mean anything. What’s there is there. What’s there is not good. . . . They broke an awful lot of NCAA rules. I’m not sure they broke the law.
Boeheim is right. These schools weren’t defrauded. These schools weren’t victims. These schools gamed the system. These schools were just as big a part of this scheme as anyone. These schools took advantage of the fact that the NCAA willingly turned a blind eye to the pay-for-play culture in college basketball because it did not want to jeopardize its billion-dollar revenue streams from March Madness.
The NCAA prides itself on its bylaws, which promote competitive equity among member institutions. Competitive equity does not exist when certain schools are, at minimum, affiliated with, and potentially orchestrating six-figure payouts to recruits funded by shoe companies seeking to capitalize on the next LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or Stephen Curry. The real victims are the schools that follow the rules, the same schools the NCAA needs to be its Cinderellas come March (Hey, Sister Jean).
Therefore, while this verdict is legally sound, it is ethically suspect. The NCAA neglected to enforce its own rules, counted its money, and let the federal government clean up its mess. No matter what heightened enforcement powers the NCAA gave itself as a result of the Rice Commission, the FBI is the real investigator of corruption in college sports, and the U.S Attorneys’ Office the real enforcement staff. And thus, once again, the NCAA has failed the student-athletes and the schools that choose to adhere to the rule book.
So yes, Jim Boeheim, this verdict really doesn’t mean anything, because if the NCAA won’t enforce its rules, the federal government shouldn’t either. Furthermore, with a decision looming in the current class action lawsuit that could ultimately strike down payment restrictions to student-athletes based on federal antitrust law, it begs the question, how long will this version of the NCAA last?
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