Press Box: The NCAA Basketball Recruiting Scandal

Illustration by Nan He

Noah Fleischman 
Staff Writer

The college basketball recruiting process could have major changes in store as the NCAA decides how to punish programs embroiled in the “College Basketball Trial,” technically U.S. v. Gatto et al, which took place in New York City.

“Pay to play” — that is what was echoed around a New York courtroom as Adidas executive James Gatto, Adidas consultant Merl Code, and wannabe agent Christian Dawkins sat on trial for allegedly paying high school athletes to attend certain colleges.

All three were found guilty Oct. 24 on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Unfortunately, the practice of paying college recruits, especially basketball players, has become the status-quo. The players should not receive compensation while being recruited, or the future of recruiting will be negatively affected. In the future, big corporations should not be able to fund the recruitment of star high school athletes because the playing field needs to be leveled between schools. I’m all for paying collegiate athletes, but not during the recruiting process.

The trial has opened some people’s eyes, as it has shown the corruption of the NCAA and its recruiting system. This method of recruiting has been an ongoing practice for years.

Dallas Mavericks guard Dennis Smith Jr. was used as an example in the trial as the U.S. government alleged that North Carolina State University paid him $40,000 to enroll. NC State was allegedly given the money from Gatto to give to Smith Jr., so he would sign and play at the Adidas-sponsored institution. The payment was made to Smith Jr.’s father, Dennis Smith Sr. The younger Smith was not aware of the payment, but it still would have qualified as an NCAA recruiting violation.

Former VCU Men’s Basketball head coach and current LSU head coach Will Wade had his name brought up during the trial. Wade was caught on an FBI wiretap talking on the phone with Dawkins about “funding” a highly recruited high school senior, Balsa Koprivica, in order to get him to sign with LSU, according to a report by ESPN. Yahoo Sports posted a transcription of the conversation.

“Would you want Balsa?” Dawkins asked.

“Ooh, the big kid?” Wade said.

Dawkins confirmed.

“OK, but there is other [expletive] involved in it,” Wade said. “Wait, I’ve got to shut the door … I can get you what you need but it’s got to work.”

Koprivica tweeted on June 21, 2017, “Blessed to say I have received an offer from LSU.” This implies that Wade was ready to give the recruit what he wanted.

“It was a little bit surprising,” Wade told ESPN at SEC Media Day. “I’m not really gonna react to what the defense attorney said. I will say I’m very proud of everything I’ve done as LSU’s head coach … I or we have never, ever done business of any kind with Christian Dawkins. That’s what I’ll say about that.”

Wade’s wiretap was not admissible in the case because it did not deal with the Adidas executives who were sitting on trial. The content of the wiretap is enough evidence for the NCAA to take action against Wade if they deem it necessary, which they should, because this is clear cut evidence of illegal recruiting practices.

“It’s a blip. It’s not what’s happening,” Duke Men’s Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Oct. 15 at a press conference.

Well, Coach Krzyzewski, the pattern that we have seen does not look like a “blip” on a radar, as multiple schools have been accused of paying their athletes. It is surprising that many high-level players, including star recruit Zion Williamson, have elected to go to Duke and turn down large amounts of money. That raises the question of whether Krzyzewski has paid his recruits.

Williamson’s father allegedly asked for money, a job, and housing, according to evidence presented during the trial. The highly sought-after recruit then committed to Duke, which was a major shock around college basketball.

College athletes, regardless of what sport they play, should be paid for their services that they provide during their time at their universities. Colleges and universities profit off the likenesses of the players, as they market the athletes across campuses and cities.

However, they should not be paid during the recruiting process as some have been over the years. The investigation and trial opened the eyes of the public as it saw the large sums offered to players by certain schools.

The scandal changes the way we look at college basketball recruiting and shows that the future of recruiting is in limbo. The trial is setting a precedent that action will be taken against those who seek to corrupt the NCAA recruiting system.


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