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The masses have spoken, and college basketball is corrupt as hell

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Today in “we broke the rules, but it’s okay because everyone does it” is not a defense.

Defendants Appear In Court Amid Charges Of NCAA Basketball Fraud And Corruption Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Yesterday, in an outcome that basically nobody reporting on it predicted, two Adidas executives and an agent were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a scheme to pay basketball recruits to attend schools that have apparel contracts with Adidas. Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s right. While basically every national college basketball writer and especially writers who cover recruiting was telling you that this is no big deal and this is more or less how things work in the world of AAU (I’m sorry, “grassroots”) basketball and college basketball recruiting, a jury of 12 people decided that what they did was, in fact, a crime and should be punished by prison time. That last part really is debatable, and the verdict will almost certainly be appealed: specifically, the fact that evidence that people associated with the universities in question were in on the scheme was not allowed to be presented to the jury might well be reversible error. (With that said, it’s important here to distinguish the universities from their basketball programs. A basketball coach at Kansas may well have known that Adidas was paying players to attend school there, but if the universities themselves are the victims, the fact that the basketball coach was in on the scheme to defraud the university into certifying them as eligible may actually make this worse, not better.)

Why did the defense fail? As a defense attorney myself, the first rule of trial is to convince the jury. Here was the problem with the defense: what sounds like “business as usual” to people inside of a corrupt system often sounds a hell of a lot like massive corruption to people outside the system. Imagine a defendant making this argument:

You see, your honor, I know I made campaign contributions in excess of the maximum allowed by law, but it’s not a crime because I had to make sure that the other side which was being funded by opposing interests that were also making campaign contributions over the maximum. See, this is just how political campaigns work

And you start to see the issue here. As Gary Parrish pointed out on his podcast, the problem the defense ran into was that the jury was not composed of AAU coaches, recruiting insiders, and national college basketball writers. Rather, the jury was composed of twelve people off the street who have no knowledge of the recruiting game. “This is just how business is done” was very convincing to a lot of people who cover college basketball for a living, and especially to people who view the NCAA’s amateurism model as something akin to involuntary servitude, but it wasn’t about to convince a jury.

In short, the masses (or, at least twelve people we presume are representative of the masses) have spoken, and the masses say that college basketball is corrupt as hell.

But please. The universities aren’t the victims here.

Maybe not those universities.

You know who is a victim of this? Any university that’s following the NCAA rulebook. It is similar to the interminable arguments about performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Is it a “victimless crime” that you got a big contract, or even a spot on a professional team’s roster, because you happened to be juicing? No, because had you not been using performance-enhacing drugs, that big contract, or that roster spot, might have gone to someone else who wasn’t juicing.

That player who got $100,000 to attend a university? In a world where nobody’s paying players, he might well have picked a different university that in this world was not offering him any extra benefits. That university is definitely a “victim” here.

But this doesn’t offend me because I think it’s wrong that the players are not paid.

One important side feature of all this is that often, as we learned, it’s not the players who are getting paid. It’s parents. It’s AAU coaches. It’s “guardians.” It’s “handlers.” It’s “family friends.”

Presenting this as an argument about players getting paid is the wrong argument to make here, because a parent basically selling his son to a particular school is closer to what actually happened here, and that’s an entirely different moral calculus.

What about the coaches?

Well, several coaches who are currently under indictment for various schemes to enrich themselves (mostly by steering soon-to-be-millionaire players to Bernie Madoff-wannabe “financial advisors” in exchange for cash) have trials coming up, and the jury verdict here may make them want to reconsider whether taking this to a jury is a good option. If anybody flips, watch out.

As far as the coaches who were on wiretaps scheming with the recently-convicted defendants? Well, they might want to contact a good criminal defense lawyer. Probably not one who thinks “this is just how business is done in this sport” is a good defense to charges of massive corruption.

Where’s the NCAA in all this?

Ha. Good one. The truth is, the FBI asked the NCAA to stay the hell out of this until their investigation is done because, basically, the FBI is concerned that the NCAA will screw this up.

We’ll see if the NCAA does anything about their cash cow programs committing massive violations of its rulebook. My money is on “yes,” because here you have sworn testimony indicating that several of them are actually committing massive violations. This is similar to that time in the 1980s when Kentucky mailed a “video” to a recruit’s father and five grand in cash just happened to fall out of the package while in transit. Kentucky got hammered over that, because when the NCAA is put in a situation where it’s blatantly obvious that a blue blood program is cheating its ass off, the NCAA still has to send a message to the Cleveland States of the world that no, you can’t do that.

In other words, the NCAA will mess with the cash cow when the cash cow drops a steaming deuce in the middle of the NCAA’s dinner party, which is basically what happened here. Remember, cash cows: only drop a deuce out in the pasture.