Editor's Note: This has been updated to state that the 2001 Knight Commission meeting was a public meeting, not a secret meeting.
U.S. Attorney Joon Kim described the recent college sports scandal succinctly, while announcing 10 arrests — four assistant basketball coaches, an Adidas executive and two associates, an agent, financial adviser and clothier.
“The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one — coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits,” Kim said, following an FBI sting.
In basketball, shoe giants actively steer top prospects to schools they sponsor, hooking the best high school players early through their Amateur Athletic Union teams and summer leagues. The expectation is they’ll sign with the shoe companies as pros.
Last year, UCLA switched from Adidas to Under Armour for a record $280 million over 12 years.
According to Forbes, the other top annual apparel contracts are: Ohio State (Nike), $16.8 million; Texas (Nike), $16.7 million; Michigan (Nike), $15.7 million; Wisconsin (UA), $9.6 million; Notre Dame (UA), $9 million; Auburn (UA), $7.8 million; Texas A&M (Adidas), $7.7 million; Miami (Adidas), $7.5 million; and South Carolina (Adidas), $7.2 million.
Iowa is No. 59 at $2 million (Nike); Iowa State (Nike), No. 64, $1.5 million.
In August, what prosecutors would later identify as “School 6” announced a $160 million, 10-year deal with Adidas. That didn’t include $100,000 for “Player-10” at the behest of “Coach-2.”
The player was unmasked as Brian Bowen, the No. 9 recruit who had verbally committed to Michigan State but would end up at Louisville in June.
Last week, Louisville Coach Rick Pitino, aka “Coach-2,” was out of a job, along with Athletic Director Tom Jurich.
According to court records, Jim Gatto, global sports marketing director for basketball for German sportswear giant Adidas, “spoke directly with Coach-2 multiple times in the days before (Bowen) publicly committed” to Louisville.
The FBI has a video of a July 27 Las Vegas meeting with agent Christian Dawkins, Jonathan Brad Augustine (director of a Florida AAU program) and an undercover agent discussing $100,000 for Bowen. Augustine allegedly said, “No one swings a bigger (expletive) than (Coach-2) at (Adidas), adding “all (Coach-2) has to do is pick up the phone and call somebody (and say), “These are my guys; they’re taking care of us.’”
The FBI complaint states Bowen “officially committed to (Louisville) in return for the commitment by Gatto and (Adidas) to pay $100,000 for his family.”
Pitino, who won NCAA titles at Louisville and Kentucky, said the allegations “come as a complete shock to me” because, of course, he is above reproach.
Pitino was involved in a 2010 extortion case arising from his affair with the team equipment manager’s wife. He admitted having sex with her in a closed restaurant in 2003, then paying for her abortion. She sought money and gifts in return for silence.
In 2015, Pitino claimed to be unaware of a sex-for-pay scandal implemented by former assistant coach Andre McGee who provided prostitutes for recruits.
University-7, aka the University of Miami, wanted five-star recruit Nassir Little. Gatto, Adidas employee Merl Code, Dawkins and Augustine needed $150,000 to keep him from a rival shoe school in return for an Adidas commitment when he turned pro.
Gatto asked if the payments could be delayed until 2018 or if the player would accept $100,000. Code wasn’t sure the family would take less, but would offer $125,000, warning the price could up to $200,000 if they waited.
Similar shenanigans ensnared four assistant coaches — Emmanuel Richardson, Arizona; Tony Bland, Southern California; Wes Person, Auburn; and Drake grad Lamont Evans, Oklahoma State (formerly South Carolina).
In “The Cartel: Inside the Rise and the Imminent Fall of the NCAA,” author Taylor Branch recounted the testimony of Sonny Vaccaro, the so-called “sneaker pimp,” who built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok, at a 2001 public meeting of the reform Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes,” Vaccaro said, “and the best way to do that is buy your school. Or buy your coach.”
“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, Penn State president emeritus, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”
“They shouldn’t, sir,” Vaccaro replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them.
The day of reckoning has arrived. Kim indicated the two-year investigation is just getting started. Meanwhile, the ineffectual and morally corrupt NCAA watches from the sidelines in Rick Pitino denial mode.