College basketball bribery scandal could ensnare dozens of universities
JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, yet another scandal has rocked the world of college basketball, and this time it's caught up some of the sport's biggest names.
Jeffrey Brown has that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Big money in college sports, that's no surprise. But today's charges expose a large web of allegedly illicit connections.
A total of 10 people, assistant coaches, agents, financial advisers, and a top executive at sportswear giant Adidas were charged with bribery involving hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence student-athletes.
One of the accused is Chuck Person, an assistant coach at Auburn and former NBA player. The school suspended him without pay. Charges were also brought against assistants at three other big basketball schools, Oklahoma State, the University of Arizona and the University of Southern California.
At a press conference this afternoon, acting U.S. attorney Joon Kim said the case lays out — quote — "the dark underbelly of college basketball."
JOON H. KIM, Acting U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York: Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.
Fraud, abuse, and corruption of the type alleged in the charges brought today contaminates all that is good and pure around it. And it has no place in college sports.
JEFFREY BROWN: And I'm joined now from Detroit by Dan Wetzel. He's a national correspondent — columnist for Yahoo Sports.
Dan, first, fill in the picture a little bit about some of these accusations of bribes. What kind of actions are we talking about?
DAN WETZEL, Yahoo Sports: Well, the system is basically this.
You have a shoe company, a sports agent, a financial planner, and they are paying money to high school recruits and their families to attend a certain school, in this case ones that are associated mostly with Adidas.
Then, when those players get there and when they're at that school, the same group was paying bribes to assistant basketball coaches so that, when the student-athletes turned pro and went to the NBA, the assistant coaches who had earned their trust would steer them to Adidas and this particular sports agency and this financial planner.
So, they were basically trying to put seed money out there to get potentially lucrative clients in the future who would be big-money NBA players.
JEFFREY BROWN: And these are — that's the web I was talking about. These are big schools, right? These are big names in the world of sports, and, of course, a big company in Adidas.
DAN WETZEL: Absolutely.
You had — four universities had assistant coaches arrested today. In the grander scope, too, is you have NCAA violations, which may not be criminal, but the NCAA can come in and punish.
And you had the University of South Carolina and the University of Louisville, among others that we will find out, are already mentioned in that.
So, the scandal can be a sports scandal, as well as a legal one.
JEFFREY BROWN: How big is it? Because, as I said, it's not that big a surprise to people who follow sports that there is a lot of money involved. But these are kind of blockbuster, detailed charges.
DAN WETZEL: The situation is significant, because college basketball has operated for generations with sort of a wink and a nod, understanding that this stuff goes on. But it's very hard to prove it.
And the NCAA doesn't have subpoena power, can only do so much investigation. The fact that you have the FBI, undercover agents, wiretaps, financial data analysts and the Department of Justice coming in and saying, this is an ongoing investigation, this is just the first series of arrests, and they can now lean on these people involved to try to get more dirt.
It can extend out to dozens of universities. The Adidas executive alone, if he's willing to flip, in an effort to get some kind of leniency or he's willing to tell the truth or everything he knows, would have stories and implications at least at the NCAA level, if not federal law, on dozens of universities.
This could be certainly the biggest scandal in the history of college basketball in terms of the sheer number of schools in trouble.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, one wonders about the assistant coaches, of course, does that lead to the head coaches, better-known people?
Some names, I know, were withheld in the indictments today. But I know that sports — knowledgeable sports people are sort of putting together two and two to figure out what other universities, what other names might be implicated.
DAN WETZEL: Well, the University of Louisville is the biggest one implicated today. And they have acknowledged that they are in the investigation.
And they are linked to a $100,000 payout to a potential — to a recruit that was signed by Louisville. That's obviously significant. Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame basketball coach. They have won numerous national championships at Louisville. And they're currently already on NCAA probation.
So, again, these allegations are extremely serious, not just legally with the feds, but with the NCAA, and that's why this could be a very, very big story.
JEFFREY BROWN: And just very briefly, what kind of responses have come from the universities?
DAN WETZEL: Some have already launched internal investigations.
Southern California hired Louis Freeh, the former FBI director's law firm to investigate it. There is no question, all over college sports, there is considerable nervousness and an intensity to find out what's going on, because this is no longer an NCAA case. It's a whole 'nother level when the FBI comes knocking on your door.
JEFFREY BROWN: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports, thank you very much.
DAN WETZEL: Thank you.