Thursday, September 28, 2017

Kobie Baker Ousted in FBI probe

Unless you've been living under a rock this week, you already know that the FBI has announced federal charges  against 10 individuals, including 4 assistant coaches, as the result of a massive undercover investigation into various fraud schemes between Adidas, shady sports agents/financial advisers, and college coaches.  My apologies for the delay in reporting about this, but  I wanted to take some time to read through the complaints and various reports and give it some thought before posting.

You can read the various complaints at the links below:
U.S. v. Person and Michel
U.S. v. Gatto, et al.
U.S. v Evans, et al

Let's take a look at what we know now, how it affects us, how it effects other schools that have been identified as referenced in the complaint, and what it may hold for the future of college basketball.

Let me preface this by saying that I hate all of this, but am surprised by none of it.  In my ideal world all the payments would be transparent and in the open and the only thing we would care about is winning on the court.  I take no joy in the likelihood of multiple teams receiving crippling sanctions, whether we are involved or not.  Much more after the jump:

Let's start with the facts we know now.  

I'm going to focus on the Alabama portion with mentions of auburn and Louisville as I imagine that is what most of us are the most interested in.  This all started when a shady sports agent/financial adviser got into hot water with the SEC (That's Security and Exchange Commission, not our conference). To avoid serious jail time, he agreed to be a confidential witness and lead the FBI to much bigger fish.

An undercover agent arranged a meeting (that was secretly recorded) with Kobie Baker and Collin Sexton's father in Atlanta.  Kobie apparently accepted a $10,000 bribe to set up the meeting and agreed to help influence Collin to sign with the fake agent when he turns pro.

So far, Greg Byrne has handled this exceptionally.  As soon as the news broke we began our own internal investigation into the basketball program; which led to Baker admitting to being the person identified in the complaint.  We got rid of Baker, publicly announced his resignation as being related to the FBI investigation, confirmed no NCAA rules were broken, and self reported all of this to the NCAA and SEC.

Impact on Alabama

Based on what we know right now; we should not be facing penalties from the NCAA and Sexton should be eligible to play.  There is nothing in the NCAA bylaws that prevents a student-athlete or his family from MEETING with potential agents.  There is nothing in the FBI complaint that indicates Sexton received any of the funds.  As long as Sexton did not receive any money or benefits from the "agent," or Baker or anybody acting on their behalf, and as long as he didn't enter into a verbal or written agreement to be represented by the agent, we should be good.  Baker has clearly committed several ethics violations, but that will not impact Sexton's eligibility.

However, we still have several causes for concern.  1) It is very possible the FBI could subpoena the Sexton's bank records.  If there are large payments around this time that can't be explained, that would obviously be a problem.  2) This investigation is far from over.  The Feds are going to be talking to all the major players in college basketball, and we are going to continue to investigate our own program.  Hopefully nothing else comes out, but we will just have to wait and see.

Impact on other schools identified in the complaints

Things are much worse for auburn, and absolutely terrifying for Louisville.  According the complaints, the FBI has proof of Chuck Person not only accepting money, but paying it to their players while verbally acknowledging that he was committing a violation and advising the player to keep his mouth shut.  Auburn will argue that Pearl knows nothing, Person was a rouge actor and was immediately fired, but Wiley and Purifoy will lose eligibility at a minimum and I will be shocked if they don't get probation and lose a couple of scholarships.  The bigger concern for auburn is the federal charges facing Person.  If Person is aware of any other illegal shenanigans on the plains, he will spill his guts in exchange for a lighter sentence.  I would love for an FBI agent to get him into an interrogation room and say "Chuck, you're going to prison.  What you tell me today will decide if its for 2 years or 20.  Is there anything else I need to know about?"

As scary as that prospect is for auburn; if I were a Louisville fan I would be searching out a new favorite team right now.  The FBI apparently has proof that Rick Pitino had knowledge of a staff member soliciting, securing, and paying six figures to a recruit just months after they were placed on probation for his recent escorts scandal.  Frankly, this case will tell us definitively if the NCAA will ever use the death penalty again.  It's still on the books, but if Louisville doesn't get it; I think we can safely say that the NCAA will never issue it again.  In fact, Louisville might be wise to self impose a one year death penalty to avoid something more long term.

Impact on college basketball generally

None of this was surprising to anyone who has closely followed college basketball for many years.  There are a LOT of coaches, AAU people, sports agents, and sports apparel executives who are not getting much sleep these days.  I imagine the Adidas schools are especially nervous.  In the SEC, that includes Mississippi $tate and Texas A&M.  We are a Nike school.  It's naive to think that Nike and Under Armor weren't involved in similar activities.  In fact, Nike was one of the first to focus on investing in players/schools to enhance their image.  Hopefully they have been smarter about it.  A couple of things that make me feel a little better about our position 1) Our relative irrelevance in the the basketball world for the last 20 years or so.  Until this year, we haven't really signed many 5-star, NBA lock types.  Anthony Grant's refusal to play the game is suddenly not looking so bad.  2) We aren't Nike's bell cow school (at least not in basketball) so they don't really have the motivation to steer players to us rather than Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Oregon, etc.  Nike was served a subpoena today.

I think this is going to have a dramatic impact on the sport, and I would not be surprised if every power 5 conference team is ultimately affected in some way.  I think there will ultimately be some major rule changes, possibly eliminating the one and done rule.  The facade of amateurism may be facing its final days.  If the NCAA insists on maintaining the facade, the best players may start going overseas in droves, or the NBA D-league could become the legit "minor league" of the NBA, as opposed to the one and dones coming through college.  The bottom line is these kids have a skill that can earn them money.  The NCAA has rules preventing those transactions, which has opened the door to this sort of black market.  If the FBI shuts down that market, which is what appears to be happening, then those players are going to find another way to get paid.  Ultimately, this could be great for the game, or it could reduce it to rec center quality basketball.  As with the Sexton stuff, we will just have to wait and see.

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