The FBI in college basketball? You would think chasing down terrorist, bank robbers, financial bandits and sexual predators would more than occupy the FBI’s agenda. Apparently that isn’t true. Investigating since 2015, the FBI announced 10 arrests and just enough details to scare the basketball shorts off any NCAA I men’s head or assistant coach that is wearing Adidas or Nike shoes.
In case you haven’t heard the news, the FBI has accused Adidas of paying assistant coaches or the players themselves up to $200,000 to get a high school player to go to an Adidas wearing college. That would lead to a promise of that player wearing Adidas when they turned pro.
Ever since I went into college coaching, I have heard those tales of a great deal of money changing hands between shoe companies, club team coaches and agents. Those agents worked to get great prospects to certain schools for a fee.
I won’t mention any names in the story I’m about to tell, but the teller of this story has first-hand knowledge of these events. This person once coached in the MIAA. He was actually a women’s assistant coach. He is now a head coach in another part of the country.
At one time, this coach had a group of great male high school players that traveled the country, playing in all the big summer tournaments for high school kids. Some of his players actually played in the NBA.
He told me when he went to these tournaments, he would rent an extra room for players to talk to college coaches. As the head coach of this exclusive club team, he would sit in on those meetings. He told me about a couple of them. One stood out.
A famous coach had an unusual offer for one of my friend’s players. If he graduated from this school, he would receive a horse for a graduation present. At that time, graduation presents from boosters did not break the rules.
This present had four legs and was worth a lot of money. The recruit would be given the name of the horse as soon as he committed to this school. He could follow the horse through his entire time at that university. The recruit could follow his graduation present, watching it pile up money on the race track.
That’s a heck of an offer, but that particular player ended up at Duke. It makes you wonder what could be better than a racehorse. My friend assured me not a single coach that visited that extra motel room went away without making an offer that was, at the very least, on the fringes of the NCAA rules. Sometimes they weren’t even close to being legal offers.
I’m only guessing here, but I suspect a lot more than 10 heads will be implicated in this investigation. I would have loved to be part of staff meetings in the schools known to get McDonald All-American players.
There are a lot of assistant coaches dreading the phone is going to ring with a call from the FBI.
I asked myself how basketball shoes could generate such huge sums of money that they could line all those young players’ pockets? If you think about it, a $200,000 payment by Adidas to get a kid to an Adidas school means much, much more.
If you are an Adidas school, you wear nothing but Adidas. Also, those Adidas schools can’t sell any official apparel with any company other than Adidas. The money from those sales brings Adidas millions of dollars. A mere $200,000 payment is a drop in the bucket.
The public perception sometimes is all college coaches can line their pockets with money, like the big boys do. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Northwest is an Adidas school, but that doesn’t mean truck-loads of money find their way to the coaches’ bank accounts.
When I first began college coaching at Doane College, the Admission Director’s husband was a New Balance representative. He came with promises of free shoes and t-shirts for basketball camps. Also, he had a great deal on new uniforms.
It turned out to be a disaster. The shoes were stiff and old. The uniforms must have been fitted for junior high kids and the t-shirts were all smalls in size. I tried to impress my new team with brand new uniforms, but none of them could fit into them. We had to wear the old ones or it would have looked like our team had just been to a strip club.
I learned my lesson. I was always skeptical when my staff heard pitches from the shoe companies and their promises of undying support. I would rather pay full price and get shoes that were made in the same century.
The cheating in DII did occur, but not even close to the same level as the FBI’s investigation. My favorite story I heard from a friend of mine that coached at a junior college in Nebraska. I was recruiting one of his players as was other MIAA teams.
The assistant dressed like a Domino’s Pizza delivery man. He shows up at the player’s door after practice with a pizza and a six pack of beer. The coach that told me this story as he was rolling on the floor with laughter. The player went to Iowa State.
The next time I need shoes, I’m not sure if I’ll buy Adidas, Nike or Under Armour. Maybe I’ll see who gives me a bucket load of money.