At this early stage of an FBI investigation into college basketball corruption, there are more questions than answers. Cari Grieb, a professor of sports law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago and a practicing attorney, fielded some basic questions.
Q: The investigation is reportedly about alleged bribery and fraud schemes involving basketball prospects, college coaches, money managers and apparel company representatives. For instance, Louisville allegedly persuaded Adidas to pay five-star prospect Brian Bowen $100,000 to agree to play for U of L. Bowen allegedly also would agree to use a specific agent when he turned pro. In such a scenario, who is being defrauded?
A: “The complaints allege that the schools have been defrauded by those that have been arrested. In other words, the allegation is that Arizona, Louisville, Auburn, Oklahoma State, USC and Miami are the real victims.
A player is the victim because he or she can lose college eligibility. Plus, such an agreement removes his or her chance to negotiate with an agent or money manager once the decision is made to turn pro.”
“These money managers are essentially bribing college coaches,” Grieb said. “If you take this money and give it to these minors and their families, OK, then we’ll get them to your school. In exchange, you’re going to funnel them our way when they graduate and go to the NBA. You’re going to get them to sign with us so we manage their money. Then they won’t get their full potential that they can get elsewhere. That’s illegal. You can’t have a conspiracy like that under the law.”
Q: Why did the FBI investigate?
A: Once these arrangements cross state lines (Bowen is from Saginaw, Mich.), the federal government has jurisdiction.
Q: At least two assistant coaches — Emanuel Richardson at Arizona and Chuck Person at Auburn — have been arrested. Why haven’t others reported to be involved (coaches, money managers, agents or Adidas employees such as James Gatto and Merl Code) been arrested?
A: “This investigation is ongoing,” Grieb said. “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression ‘tip of the iceberg.’ I would not rule out there are not going to be arrests of anyone from Louisville, especially because they do have detailed information about Louisville in the complaint.”
Federal investigations could be trying to get people involved to become cooperative witnesses (to “flip” in the legal vernacular). More arrests could follow.
“I don’t think they’re close to being done with arrests yet,” Grieb said.
Q: How likely to be punished is soon-to-be former Louisville Coach Rick Pitino?
A: “He will absolutely be terminated,” Grieb said.
“Of course, NCAA penalties are possible too,” Grieb said. “Pitino is no stranger to NCAA discipline, and was issued a multiple game suspension this past June for a “failure to monitor” his program in connection with a prior prostitution scandal involving recruits.”
It’s also possible that prospects and/or their families could sue coaches.
“There would have to be a ton of new evidence out there before he could even get arrested,” Grieb said of Pitino. “But I think there’s potential there could be some lawsuits.”
A moment later, Grieb added, “Maybe I’d be worried if I was Rick Pitino.”
Q: What sort of a defense do you think will be mounted?
A: “Intent is a key element in fraud,” Grieb said. “(The government has) to prove intent to defraud beyond a reasonable doubt. So defendants will probably argue their conduct here is just business as usual in 21st-century American college sports. … So maybe there was no intent to defraud. They were intending to do business as usual.”
Q: What message was sent when FBI assistant director William Sweeney announced that the investigation was ongoing by saying, “We have your playbook?”
A: “I think they want to find out and prove that it’s at other schools,” Grieb said. “So they’re warning (other schools) if you’re doing this, you probably want to stop because we’re going to figure out the other schools that are involved here.”
Q: Why hasn’t college football recruiting been implicated?
A: “That’s what everyone is wondering. Right now, they’re focused on basketball. The leads in this scandal all involved basketball. But I think if they can get, like, one person to reveal something with football, it may very well translate over.”
“I think a lot of people were surprised this only involved college basketball because I think it’s sort of always been understood this sort of behavior exists in NCAA men’s football as well.”
Q: When will this FBI investigation end?
A: “I wish I had the answer. It could go on for years. My sense, because they announced this, you might see more arrests within a year.”