Opinion

Are the Adidas verdicts bad news for big-name basketball programs? Don’t count on it

Coach K on trial verdict: ‘I would think it means something good for our sport.’

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says the guilty verdicts against three men on federal charges stemming from an investigation into corruption in college basketball is good because the sport's wrongdoers will be punished.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says the guilty verdicts against three men on federal charges stemming from an investigation into corruption in college basketball is good because the sport's wrongdoers will be punished.

For those who wonder what’s next for the NCAA and college athletics in the wake of the Adidas trial’s conclusion Wednesday, we present the Kansas Jayhawks basketball program.

The Jayhawks and coach Bill Self will open their exhibition season tonight without freshman Silvio De Sousa, whose recruitment was a central part of the trial that implicated not only Kansas, but several big-time college programs. In the end, three Adidas employees were found guilty of defrauding NCAA schools by paying high school players to commit to those schools’ basketball programs.

Yes, you read that correctly. To persuade a jury that fraud occurred, federal prosecutors had to provide jurors with fraud victims. And for the universities to be those victims, jurors had to believe that their basketball programs and their coaches were unknowing that such payments were being made on their behalf. Those familiar with college sports knows how laughable that is.

Coaches — especially the good ones — are micromanagers who know everything about their program and their players. In this case, Self and other Kansas coaches even exchanged text messages with T.J. Gassnola, the Adidas official who helped steer De Sousa to Kansas. None of those text messages show Self explicitly acknowledging any payments, but a defense attorney for Adidas executive James Gatto said Self requested the money for his player, and it’s far-fetched to believe that Self wasn’t at least aware of the black market for high-level recruits that’s familiar to so many in college basketball.

All of which leaves the NCAA with an opportunity. It can come down hard on Kansas and other schools already implicated in payments, and it can chase other leads the trial offered up, such as Duke landing a player whose father asked Kansas for cash, money and a job. The NCAA long ago got around the ploy of coaches playing dumb about recruiting violations by instead punishing programs that benefited from boosters and other unsavory folks who provide illegal gifts and payments. At Kansas and Louisville, evidence of those payments already might be enough for punishment. At other schools that include N.C. State, Arizona and Maryland, officials surely are feeling uneasy today about what the trial has unearthed and affirmed.

But confronting the recruiting underworld that the Adidas trial exposed also means pursuing the many marquee programs and coaches that have helped make NCAA basketball the billion dollar success it is today. To this point, the NCAA has largely showed a reluctance to address other fundamental pay and eligibility issues if doing so might slow the flow of dollars coming in. Does it have the backbone to truly clean up some corruption now?

One hint at how things might go: At Kansas, Self announced Wednesday that De Sousa would be held out of the team’s exhibition basketball opener while the school and the NCAA conduct an “eligibility review.” The coach also said in a statement that Kansas and the NCAA had discussed the Adidas trial “developments,” which apparently weren’t alarming enough for the NCAA to suggest that someone else sit out the exhibition, too: Bill Self.

We’re not optimistic.

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