clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: College Basketball Trial State Of Play Edition

If the prosecution prevails in the college basketball corruption trial, the NCAA could be the biggest loser.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Coaches Press Conference Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies.

Today, we are going to take a look at a few of the issues surrounding the FBI trial of alleged corruption in college basketball going on in the Southern District of New York’s federal jurisdiction.

Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated is my go-to analyst for NCAA legal issues because of his unusual ability to examine cases without interjecting is personal bias into the subject. It is a rare thing to find today, and I recommend his work to you unreservedly.

Today, McCann helps explain the prosecution’s theory of the crime, which raises some rather interesting issues. To wit:

First, the Justice Department contends that payoffs to recruits defraud the universities that enroll those recruits. This might seem paradoxical: why would universities complain about enrolling superstar basketball players who were aggressively recruited by rival programs? The reason, the Justice Department argues, begins when the recruit accepts a payoff. It is at that moment when he becomes, at least in principle, ineligible to play NCAA basketball. While the recruit’s transgression might never be exposed, and thus he might go on to a superficially successful NCAA career, he remains an on-going compliance risk to any school that enrolls him. This is true even after he is no longer a student at the school. [my emphasis]

So the idea is that by paying players, the alleged perpetrators are creating poison pills which, if discovered, defraud unknowing schools by forcing the NCAA to sanction them, damaging them both financially and reputationally.

Second, the Justice Department insists that the conspirators interfered with targeted schools’ ability to “control their assets”—a term of art that includes distribution of finite scholarships and financial aid packages. Had the colleges not been deceived in enrolling ineligible recruits, they could have directed these “assets” to recruits who were both in appearance and in actuality complying with NCAA rules. While those “other recruits” might not have been five-star talents like Bowen and Smith, they did not jeopardize the schools that ultimately enrolled them with the potential hazard of NCAA sanctions.

Restating this, essentially the alleged perpetrators are corruptly denying schools the transparency they need to decide which recruits to go after in order to avoid running afoul of the NCAA.

McCann goes into more detail about how difficult this theory will be to prove, and you should read the whole thing, because it is very informative and helpful in examining these and other important issues. My points, however, begin to diverge here.

With all this in mind, here is a thought exercise for you: How does the NCAA deal with these issues?

Let’s say that the government successfully proves the defendants committed the alleged crime under the theory the prosecution puts forth. Let’s further say the the jury convicts them on all, or at least most, substantive counts. What is the proper response by the NCAA?

We all know that the NCAA, to use a construction that criminally understates the reality, isn’t among the favorite institutions of the sports-watching public. So how, exactly, do they punish schools who, according to a jury, have been unlawfully deceived with the intent to harm them both financially and reputationally by outside interests, and the vehicle for that damage is — wait for it — the NCAA, who must now decide how to punish the actual fraud victims?

This Kafkaesque situation could become very real if there are convictions in this trial. If, as the defendants and even yours truly expects, it becomes impossible to get 12 jurors to agree with this convoluted theory, the NCAA will just punish the schools as per normal, and only the school’s partisans will use the government’s theory as exculpatory.

But if the schools were the victims, how is it right to punish them? This is the catch-22 facing the NCAA upon potential conviction, and it will become even more apparently outrageous if they construct this as some kind of “strict liability” situation. There is a limit to how unpopular an institution can become before real action is taken to correct the situation, and this just may be the last straw.

So if the government wins, the NCAA, it appears to me, loses. How droll.

Tweet of the Morning

Rest in peace.

Your Quickies:

Kentucky football
Kentucky basketball
Other Kentucky sports
Links posts
College football
College basketball
Other sports news
Other news