I’m a little surprised nobody brought up the subject of what I was hinting at in the header of yesterday’s post about the announcement of federal prosecution of several basketball coaches. No doubt it was easy to be distracted by the fact that, yet again, Auburn finds itself enmeshed in another recruiting scandal, but let’s not lose sight of the underlying cause of the (alleged) criminal activity.
It is from the NCAA’s system of amateurism that the criminal investigation became possible: law enforcement became aware various persons broke NCAA rules in ways that violated criminal law. If the NCAA had adopted a system where players were compensated for their labor and compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness, perhaps all or some of these “under the table” payments would not have occurred. We’ll never know. But some will ask.
Blow it off, if you like, but that is a typically real world result of market distortion. If you want an uncomfortable analogy, it’s kind of like how they caught Al Capone.
The NCAA has a problem here, as well, that’s probably beginning to dawn on its member schools. The problem is, unlike the usual investigation of such matters, it has no control over the proceedings. Even worse, the federal investigation is far from toothless. Unlike the NCAA, the feds have subpoena power and the threat of jail time to play in order to get cooperation. That can turn over a lot of rocks that normally would stay in the shade.
Along those lines, the fact that such extensive corruption allegedly occurred raises questions as to whether the NCAA is even capable of stopping any of it. The NCAA, like any organization, has a limited bandwidth. Further, since it is a private actor, the NCAA lacks subpoena powers and other investigatory capabilities enjoyed by law enforcement.
The individual schools implicated in the prosecutions—including Auburn, Oklahoma State, Arizona, USC and Louisville—are also impacted by the trajectory of these cases. Employees of their schools are now accused of partaking in conduct that violates criminal law and NCAA rules. It stands to reason the NCAA could, and no doubt will, investigate the criminal cases and potentially impose sanctions on those schools.
The schools might also worry about civil liability associated with criminal acts committed by employees, as well as repercussions with their insurance companies. It stands to reason that a recruited player who loses his NCAA eligibility as a result of this criminal investigation could consider suing the recruiting school as well as others involved.
Adidas is also impacted. One of its well-known executives, Gatto, is now a defendant in a criminal case in which he is accused of peddling his position with the apparel company to advance a criminal enterprise. Even if other sneaker company executives partake in similar kinds of misconduct, Adidas is the one with an executive who faces charges. That dynamic could damage the brand and the confidence placed in it by company investors. Also, given that Adidas is a publicly traded company, allegations against an Adidas executive might attract the unwanted attention of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
All of these associated parties would likely be pleased if the defendants strike plea deals to end the cases as soon as possible. The NCAA, universities and Adidas all know the longer these cases drag out, the more likely compromising evidence will surface, whether that occurs through subpoenas, warrants or the pretrial discovery process. It’s possible many names, including of significant figures in college sports, will come to light and in unflattering ways. To that end, it seems quite possible head coaches and athletic department officials of implicated schools may have been aware of an assistant coach’s wrongdoing. Further, executives at the related universities and Adidas could all be called to testify in forums that damage their associated brands.
All this to preserve the amateurism protocol. At some point, you have to wonder if Emmert’s bosses start to question if this a price worth paying to prevent student-athletes from being compensated for their names, likenesses and images. Down the road, we may look back on this indictment and recognize it as being as significant a turning point in the history of college athletics as NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma wound up being.