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  • Writer's pictureVillanova Sports Law Blog

Individual Malpractice or the Harsh Reality of the NCAA’s Involvement in Corrupt Recruiting...

Updated: Feb 12

By Rich Chakejian:

The NCAA is an organization that prides themselves on promoting their core values that include amateurism, integrity, and fairness. The NCAA has proven over the last couple of years that they will hold their member institutions accountable for infringing upon their governing rules and laws. In the past decade there have been numerous examples of the NCAA punishing various programs. Recently, there has been an ongoing investigation conducted by the FBI to monitor NCAA basketball programs and their recruiting practices. Last spring it was reported that Sean Miller, head coach of the University of Arizona, was found to have been involved with soliciting a payment of $100,000 to secure a commitment from a top recruit and future number one overall draft pick, DeAndre Ayton. [1] While this news was portrayed as shocking and despicable, it shined a bright light on the underground economy that thrives within the NCAA. [2] In addition to this allegation, this past week another report of the same nature arose regarding Bill Self and Adidas’ solicitation of monetary compensation to a potential recruit. [3]

The issue at hand with the latest report of Self is that he received assistance from Adidas to make payments to a recruit he was pursuing. "The evidence, I submit, shows that Kansas' head coach knew of and asked for a payment to be made to Silvio De Sousa's handler," Schachter told the jury. "More than that, Coach Self requested just the kind of help that Mr. Gassnola arranged as a condition for Coach Self to permit Adidas to continue their sponsorship agreement with the University of Kansas." [4] This quote is an indication that there is indeed an acknowledged practice of using shoe companies to solicit payments in hoping to obtain recruits. Furthermore, text conversations shown in court between Self and Gassanola indicate a belief that other programs engage in this practice too, such as Kentucky, UNC, and Duke. [5] Gassanola goes even further to reference DeAndre Ayton, telling Self he has “never let him down except for DeAndre.” [6]

While the investigation and hearing of this issue progresses in court, the NCAA has reason to worry for themselves. While the rules set forth by the NCAA strictly prohibit compensation for their recognized student-athletes, it is reasonable to suggest they have been aware of this recruiting practice. The NCAA has proven to be quick to punish programs with harsh sanctions for any violation of their rules in an effort to maintain their image and reputation of having the upmost integrity. However, in light of this investigation, it is time for the NCAA themselves to be held accountable for fostering this type of “black market” that has existed in recruiting. As the courts attempt to determine whether violations of the NCAA rules are to be considered criminal acts that should be punished by the court of law, the court should allocate blame to the NCAA as well. [7]

As this story begins to unfold in the near future, there cannot be satisfaction in reaching a conclusion for this one, individual case of Bill Self, Kansas, and Adidas. A strong inference can be made from the testimonies and evidence presented that these practices surely exist at other schools. However, the question that remains to be seen is how proactive the NCAA will be in pursuing these programs. It would be more hurtful to their organization (and business) for them to uncover ugly truths of corrupt recruiting practices at other major, brand-name programs such as Duke, UNC, and Kentucky. Will the NCAA inflict themselves in attempting to uncover the truth or will they continue to turn a blind eye toward this issue and let these programs continue to thrive and preach their commitment to amateurism, integrity, and fairness? One would likely infer that a successful billion-dollar business would be inclined to allow the institutions that generate their revenue continue to thrive.

Now that the reality of these recruiting practices have been made available to the public on behalf of the FBI, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out in the near future and the stance the NCAA will take on this issue moving forward. The outcome of this case will be very influential in the inevitable implementation of new rules and regulations that will be needed to govern these kinds of practices. Overall, it should be recognized that the NCAA has a great deal of culpability in this case. For an organization that has preached integrity, they should be one the forefront of accepting blame in how this practice was able to evolve. In conclusion, the complex structure and organization of the NCAA fostered the growth of the corruption in recruiting that the FBI was able to uncover.

[1] Mark Schlabach, FBI wiretaps show Sean Miller discussed $100K payment to lock recruit (March 1, 2018).

[3] Mark Schlabach, Defense Attorney: Kansas’ Bill Self requested $20k payment for Silvio De Sousa (October 19, 2018).

[4] Id.

[5] Jessie Newell, Read the text messages from KU’s Bill Self, Kurtis Townsend that were shown in court (October 19, 2018)

[6] Id.

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