New details of payments to athletes in a federal investigation that has lurked in the shadows since first rocking college basketball last fall mark the latest threat to the sport’s basic foundation, showing the breadth of alleged corruption.
Bank records and other expense reports that are part of the investigation list a wide range of impermissible payments from agents to at least two dozen players or their relatives, according to documents obtained by Yahoo Sports.
The depth of the violations raises questions about the structure of college athletics, a business funded primarily through college football and basketball, including $19.6 billion in TV money for the NCAA Tournament over the past 22 years — a hoops extravaganza American sports fans know as March Madness.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement today the allegations “if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America.”
Yahoo said today that the documents obtained in discovery during the investigation link current players including Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, Duke’s Wendell Carter and Alabama’s Collin Sexton to potential benefits that would be violations of NCAA rules.
Michigan State and Duke officials said they didn’t believe their players did anything wrong, and Alabama coach Avery Johnson said Sexton, who was held out of the season opener for violating NCAA rules, will play Saturday against Arkansas.
According to the report, players over the past several years and family members allegedly received cash, entertainment and travel expenses from former NBA agent Andy Miller and his agency ASM Sports. Line items in four pages of documents released by Yahoo showed a wide range, including some five-figure payments and two dinners for less than $40 each.
Don Jackson, an Alabama-based attorney who has worked on numerous college eligibility cases, said the root of the problem is that the NCAA’s model of amateurism doesn’t work.
“This problem can be solved if players are compensated,” Jackson said. “The NCAA is not capable of adequately policing tens of thousands of athletes around the country.”
A balance sheet from December 2015 lists several payments under “Loan to Players,” including $43,500 to Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith, who played one season at North Carolina State in 2016-17. Another document says Smith received $73,500 in loans.
N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow said the school disassociated itself from Miller in 2012.
Documents also said Brooklyn Nets guard Isaiah Whitehead received $26,136 while a freshman at Seton Hall, and Tim Quarterman, now playing for the Agua Caliente Clippers of the NBA G League, received at least $16,000 while a junior at LSU.
The story said the mother of Bridges received $400 in a cash advance. Current Kentucky player Kevin Knox, Carter and Sexton are listed among players or families meeting or having meals with former ASM Sports associate Christian Dawkins.
Coaches and athletic officials at several schools, including Clemson, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Southern California, Utah and Wichita State said they did not know of the alleged payments until Yahoo’s report was released, but pledged to cooperate in any investigation. Several coaches distanced themselves from Miller.
“Personally, I welcome the scrutiny on the sport of men’s basketball because the behavior of some agents, along with reports of other illegal recruiting activities, is hurting the sport,” Utah athletic director Chris Hill said.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said he isn’t surprised by anything that happens in college hoops.
“We can sit here and talk about it for days on end if we wanted to, all the things that have gone on in college basketball,” Barnes said. “I’m not surprised by any of it.”
Lawyers for two of the 10 defendants arrested in the federal cases said it was inappropriate for Yahoo to have the documents.
“An effort was clearly made to embarrass some defendants and cast aspersions on some current student athletes whose only ‘crime’ may be that their relatives didn’t reimburse an agent for a single steak dinner,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, who represents former Southern California assistant basketball coach Tony Bland, who was fired last month after his arrest. Bland is accused of receiving a $13,000 bribe for steering the team’s players to Dawkins and a financial adviser when they became professionals. Bland pleaded not guilty in November to charges related to bribery and wire fraud.
Dawkins attorney Steven Haney Sr. said the report doesn’t mean Dawkins broke the law.
“In the most simple of legal terms; prove it,” Haney said in an email.
Jackson said the NCAA or the schools would need to conduct their own investigations as opposed to making any rulings based on the documents from the FBI probe.
“They can’t just automatically accept the credibility of this document,” the Alabama-based attorney said.
Emmert said the NCAA Board of Governors and recently formed independent Commission on College Basketball are committed to “making transformational changes” and will cooperate with the federal prosecutors to “identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts.”