In 2017, federal prosecutors filed charges against 10 people, including college basketball coaches, managers, financial advisers, and representatives of apparel companies. Allegations included bribery, conspiracy, and fraud. Following a three-year investigation into possible criminal influence in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball, U.S. attorneys found two related schemes. In one scheme, an Adidas executive bribed student athletes and their families to attend universities where the company sponsored athletic programs. In the other, financial advisers and managers paid coaches to persuade students to be managed by them when the students transitioned to professional sport.
According to one complaint in the case, “The investigation has revealed several instances in which coaches have exercised that influence by steering players and their families to retain particular advisers, not because of the merits of those advisers, but because the coaches were being bribed by the advisers to do so.” In one instance, for example, an associate coach at Auburn University took more than $91,000 to steer his players into a business agreement with a financial adviser and suit-maker. Regarding the financial adviser, the coach allegedly told the student, “This is how the NBA players get it done, they get early relationships, and they form partnerships, they form trust.” For the agreement with the suit-maker, the coach added, “You’ll start looking like an NBA ball player. That’s what you are.”
In another instance, an assistant coach at the University of Louisville worked with an Adidas executive to pay $100,000 to the family of a top recruit. In exchange, the student sign would with Louisville, where Adidas was a sponsor. Coaches at the University of Arizona, University of Southern California, and Oklahoma State University were also implicated in the initial criminal charges.
U.S. attorney Joon Kim stated, “Month after month, the defendants allegedly exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.” He added, “The defendants’ alleged criminal conduct not only sullied the spirit of amateur athletics, but showed contempt for the thousands of players and coaches who follow the rules, and play the game the right way.”
Universities responded by suspending the coaches involved. Oklahoma State spokesperson Gary Shutt stated, “OSU takes seriously the high standards of conduct expected in our athletic department and does not tolerate any deviation from those standards.” Adidas claimed that it was unaware of the misconduct and released a statement, “Adidas is committed to ethical and fair business practices and to full compliance with applicable laws, rules and regulations,” continuing, “We have cooperated fully with the authorities.”
In 2018, the NCAA began the process of implementing reforms and regulating agents. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led the NCAA commission for reform and said the trouble in college basketball was “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.” But she noted that the “college basketball enterprise is worth saving.”