When the word came Tuesday that there still were more pages to the book on the FBI’s investigation of the basketball talent game, one wonders what the reaction might have been at the headquarters of what we’ve come to call the Rice Commission.
If there were an actual HQ, of course.
What we learned in this latest episode is there are still more charges against former adidas executive Jim Gatto that involve schemes to direct funds toward prospects or their family members to convince them to attend colleges — specifically, Kansas and N.C. State — that are under contract with that particular athletic apparel company.
The intriguing thing about the charge affecting Kansas is it might not have involved anyone employed at KU. There is no language that indicates participation by a coach or booster or an athletic department employee.
Kansas was certainly eager to embrace that interpretation of the new charges against Gatto. KU director of strategic communications Joe Monaco announced earlier this week the university was named as a “victim” in the superseding indictment. “The indictment does not suggest any wrongdoing by the university, its coaches or its staff,” he said in a statement. “We will cooperate fully with investigators in this matter.”
Remember, the Justice Department had not been reluctant to mention the involvement of particular coaches at affected universities, where applicable. They arrested and charged four Division I assistant coaches. Coaching staff participation in surveilled meetings was cited regarding Louisville. Even these new indictments assert that an unnamed N.C. State coach — “coach 4” — was directly involved in an alleged payment to one of the program’s recruits.
So if there were payments to KU prospects orchestrated by Gatto without the knowledge of anyone at KU, this would be an issue that would create a massive problem for anyone on a mission to “fix college basketball.”
For instance, the Rice Commission.
It was formed last fall by NCAA president Mark Emmert in the aftermath of the original charges announced by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It is chaired by Condoleeza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and comprises many accomplished men and women but few with a deep background in the current college game.
Emmert has indicated the Rice Commission’s recommendations, which are due at the end of April, will be swiftly adopted — likely in advance of the 2018-19 season. When such promises are made, the relative merit of the commission’s proposals would seem to matter little.
There has been very little public discussion regarding what form the supposed improvements to college basketball might take. However, a great deal of what has been presented as potential “improvements” to the structure surrounding college basketball by interested stakeholders, including the Pacific-12 Conference and Big East, has been aimed at shoe company involvement in summer basketball events where colleges do the majority of their scouting for future players.
In a 50-page report it promised to forward to the Rice Commission, the Pacific-12 Conference addressed the influence of athletic apparel companies in the basketball talent game by suggesting the creation of scouting “combine” events run by the NCAA or, perhaps, USA Basketball, that would replace the current summer tournaments.
The report also called for greater transparency involving endorsement/equipment contracts between those companies and universities and coaches.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know that Under Armour is paying UCLA $280 million over the next 15 years? Or that Washington just signed up with adidas for 10 years and $120 million? Calling for more clarity in these arrangements is a way to declare there is concern, but not so much that anyone will say no to the money.
Although it’s possible the Rice Commission could agree with the Pac-12’s idea to fully disclose the details of those contracts, what purpose would it serve in the event there were an executive at such a firm that decided it was in his or her best interests to illicitly lure some of the best athletic prospects to colleges that have a deal in place to showcase the company’s sneakers (and then to keep those prospects in the family by signing them to endorsement deals once they turn pro)?
The idea that the commission could address problems in this arena by escalating the NCAA punishment structure, or by farming out the enforcement process to an outside agency, or by insisting all coaches and athletic department employees sign away rights by granting subpoena power to whomever is enforcing NCAA regulations — none of that would have any impact upon a case such as the one the U.S. Attorney has mounted against Gatto.
Whatever issues there are the basketball talent structure — and they go well beyond the scope of college basketball, in both directions — are quite obviously beyond the scope of a quick fix. The Rice Commission has been at it for months, but promising immediate adoption of its recommendations means there’s no other way to view this.