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Bombshells in opening statements of college basketball corruption trial

NBC Sports logo NBC Sports 10/2/2018 Rob Dauster
a man looking at the camera © Stacy Revere/Getty Images

We knew there were going to be fireworks during the trials for the eight men facing wire fraud charges stemming from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, and day one did not disappoint.

The defense attorney for Jim Gatto, a former Adidas executive accused of funneling money from the apparel company to recruits and their families, acknowledged that her client had more or less done all of the above.

According to Casey Donnelly, Gatto did facilitate a payment of $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen because “Oregon, a Nike school, offered [Bowen] an astronomical amount of money if he’d go to Oregon.” Bowen was never cleared and eventually turned pro before heading to Australia for this season.

Donnelly admitted that Gatto paid $40,000 to the family of Dennis Smith Jr. while the current Dallas Maverick was playing at N.C. state. She said that Gatto paid $20,000 to Silvio De Sousa, who played for Kansas during the second semester last season, because “Under Armour had paid for De Sousa to [commit] to the University of Maryland.” Donnelly then confirmed that Gatto was also involved in the discussions surrounding the recruitment of Nassir Little, who Adidas was considered paying to attend Miami after the player was “offered” $150,000 by Arizona. Little has since enrolled at North Carolina.

Donnelly did not specifically say who requested that Gatto make those payments, simply stating that he was working based off of what the coaches wanted.

Those quotes alone are enough to make headlines around the internet, but they aren’t the story of the first day of the trail.

The story is this: “Jim Gatto broke NCAA rules,” Donnelly said. “NCAA rules are not laws.”

This is the defense that Gatto’s attorney will be mounting. Their game-plan appears to be throwing the sport under the bus, showing how corrupt the world of high-major recruiting is, how pervasive breaking NCAA rules has become all while emphasizing one, simple point: The coaching staffs at these universities and, thus, the universities themselves wanted these things to happen. They weren’t victims of fraud. They were complicit, willing participants that happily kept their head in the sand as they profited off of the free labor Gatto and company provided them.

And they’re right.

The FBI and the Southern District of New York should not be in charge of enforcing the NCAA’s draconian amateurism rules. There are elements in this case that are worthy of investigation. Coaches taking bribes to funnel kids to financial advisors they don’t know, that have a history of defrauding clients, should be cleaned up. (Read: Person, Chuck.) But it’s genuinely baffling to me that there are smart, important federal investigators that believe college athletes capitalizing on a percentage of their true value on the open market while still “amateurs” is worthy of their time, resources or man-power.

Truthfully, they should’ve spent their time investigating whether or not it’s legal for the NCAA and the universities that make up the NCAA to artificially cap players’ earning power to ensure that all the money goes to the schools and rich decision-makers.

But that’s besides the point.

The story from Day 1 of the first trial of the college basketball corruption scandal is that Jim Gatto and his lawyer are going to freely and willfully toss around names and identify who he worked with, what players he paid and what coaches requested that it happen.

That matters, because of this rule change the NCAA announced in August: “People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law [or] government agency.”

Any evidence that turns up during this trial or any of the other trials stemming from this FBI investigation can be used by the NCAA to punish people breaking their by-laws.

So if you are a coach and you worked with Gatto, Dawkins or Code during the period when this investigation was happening, you should be worried.

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