CRAWFORD | FBI info now in the NCAA's court; what does it mean?
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The ball is bouncing on another season of college basketball, but the most compelling question hovering over this season concerns a different kind of court.
Yahoo! Sports reported on Tuesday that the FBI has given the NCAA clearance to use its investigative materials in pursuing potential violations of its own rules.
There was no formal approval from the FBI, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde and Pete Thamel reported, but the NCAA has been in frequent communication with federal officials, and that the NCAA investigative team looking into the matter may be ready to begin.
At the very least, it now has a green light that it may pursue its inquiries without interfering with federal cases.
How quickly the NCAA might move, what schools it could investigate, and how it will handle the evidence submitted in court are all questions with no clear answers.
The NCAA has refused comment, saying it does not discuss its investigations before their conclusions.
Late Wednesday, ESPN reported that its Outside the Lines had obtained a Sept. 5, 2017 email from agent Christian Dawkins, convicted of felony wire fraud in the first college basketball corruption trial, outlining payment plans to various players and their families and others connected with them.
The email did not offer proof of payments, and in some cases only proposed offers to various people. It certainly doesn’t point to guilt on the part of anyone mentioned, but it does provide a starting point for potential NCAA investigations.
That’s of particular concern at the University of Louisville. In the email, sent about three weeks before the indictments in the college basketball case were handed down by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Dawkins proposed paying Louisville’s Ray Spalding $2,000 per month from October 2017 to December 2017, then $3,000 per month until April of 2018. The document also shows that he planned to pay King $2,000 a month from October 2017 until April of 2018, but noted “it will be a messy situation in my opinion.”
On Sept. 13, just over a week after that email was sent, Dawkins told adidas consultant Merle Code that he was going to Louisville to “check on VJ” and to speak with Louisville signee Brian Bowen, whose father acknowledged to agreeing to a $100,000 payment from adidas in exchange for his son playing at Louisville.
U of L, when asked whether King’s name on that wiretap raised any questions, indicated that it did not. Athletics director Vince Tyra, in response to questions from WDRB, said, “Our university continually reviews the eligibility of all of its student-athletes. We have reviewed information recently presented at the trial in New York and do not believe it affects any of our current student-athletes. We will continue to monitor any new information that becomes available.”
U of L gave the same statement to ESPN after its report on Wednesday.
The particular concern with King is that because he is an active NCAA athlete, the NCAA can compel him or his family to cooperate with its investigations, because it can compel U of L to declare him ineligible if he doesn’t. This happened with a former U of L player, Marvin Stone, in 2003.
But U of L isn’t the only school with players mentioned in the email.
Dawkins laid out a plan to give the family Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt $30,000 to help cover expenses of traveling to his games at Kentucky last season. He also offered his father a $25,000 bonus when his son turned pro, as well as a deal for the father and a brother of Vanderbilt to receive a cut of the income from equipment sales. There was additional money promised if Vanderbilt had been a lottery pick. He went in the second round to the Orlando Magic.
An NBA shoes database website that tracks footwear worn by players in the league shows that Vanderbilt, who was traded to the Denver Nuggets, is in Nikes.
One current UK player, guard Ashton Hagans, also is listed as a target for Dawkins, who proposed paying him $2,000 per month from October 2017 to October 2018, then $3,000 monthly through April 2020.
So what does all this mean?
By itself, the email means little. And whether the NCAA could track down evidence on players who are no longer in school is doubtful.
What this could do, however, is launch NCAA investigations into those schools that Dawkins did mention, a process that could be uncomfortable and time consuming.
And, in the case of Louisville, if you’re already on probation, dangerous. If they truly feel there’s nothing amiss with a player like King, they’re fine. But if a new administration is seen as taking this kind of information lightly, in light of all that has already transpired there, the resulting punishment could be harsh.
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