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Guilty verdicts irrelevant to NCAA’s task ahead, but this may offer impetus for action

Coach K on trial verdict: ‘I would think it means something good for our sport.’

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says the guilty verdicts against three men on federal charges stemming from an investigation into corruption in college basketball is good because the sport's wrongdoers will be punished.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says the guilty verdicts against three men on federal charges stemming from an investigation into corruption in college basketball is good because the sport's wrongdoers will be punished.

Jim Boeheim, finally, is right about something. The guilty verdict in the college-basketball corruption trial, a jury deciding Wednesday that college programs were defrauded by an Adidas conspiracy to deliver them elite players, is immaterial for college basketball.

“The verdict doesn’t mean anything,” the Syracuse coach said Wednesday. “What’s there is there. What’s there is not good. ... They broke an awful lot of NCAA rules. I’m not sure they broke the law.”

It was indeed a curious legal argument, although given how things went for the Wolfpack with Dennis Smith Jr. on the roster, maybe N.C. State really was a victim. Nevertheless, it worked.

Two Adidas employees and an agent were convicted of defrauding N.C. State, Kansas and Louisville by paying players to attend those schools and therefore compromising their eligibility in the first of three scheduled trials to come out of the FBI’s investigation into college-basketball fraud.

The FBI on Tuesday announced the filing of a superseding indictment in the college basketball investigation that alleges payments to include additional families of student athletes, including an athlete at NC State that appears to be Dennis Smith Jr.

Because the perpetrators did not deny what they did, only whether they violated the law in doing so, their guilt has no bearing on the state of college basketball, but it should offer new impetus to efforts to do something about it.

Even before the verdict, ACC commissioner John Swofford called for the NCAA to use the new, broader enforcement powers bestowed upon it by the Rice Commission to use the evidence presented at trial to penalize those who, in Boeheim’s words, broke an awful lot of NCAA rules.

The storm clouds were already gathering Wednesday morning, when Kansas announced that Silvo De Sousa, whose recruitment came up in text messages between an Adidas representative and Kansas coach Bill Self, was being held out of practice pending an investigation into his eligibility.

“I don’t think that what has come up can be ignored in any way, shape or form,” Swofford said. “So, yes, I think there does need to be some action and I’m sure there will be. I think it’s premature to know exactly what that will be.”

University of North Carollina basketball coach Roy Williams talks about the problems in college sports and that while he "doesn't live in that world", he is not "burying his head in the sand".

It is premature in part because this is uncharted territory for the NCAA, which will have to decide whether to flex some new muscles.

Amid the mixed bag of reforms adopted by the Rice Commission, the tweaks to the enforcement process were among the most welcome. In addition to the creation of independent investigative and adjudication arms, populated by people unaffiliated with universities, the NCAA was given the immediate latitude to use what’s already on the public record to build its cases.

While the NCAA in the past was able to rely only on its own interviews and documentation or that provided by its schools – which occasionally left it stonewalled by people who refused to admit to the NCAA what they admitted elsewhere – it can now draw both information and conclusions from other sources, court proceedings included.

That makes the testimony offered at trial, and in this case the claims of Adidas fixer T.J. Gassnola in particular, eligible for examination by the NCAA immediately. The only hesitation, so far, is believed to be the desire of Federal prosecutors to proceed with their trials, this one and the two others on the docket, before the NCAA starts poking around.

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts talks with reporters after learning of the verdict in a college basketball corruption trial. Keatts spoke to reporters at ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte, NC Wednesday, Oct. 24. 2018.

“We’re in a transition, obviously, at the NCAA, in terms of how major cases will be addressed and how -- I don’t know how the NCAA, for instance, will use court testimony in terms of its processes,” Swofford said. “But this sort of puts an interesting and maybe healthy test in front of the NCAA and the transition in the new approach that we’re trying to take that’s coming out of the Rice Commission right off the bat. And I think that’s probably a good thing.”

The chances of Swofford being on an island with this are slim. He’s a powerful man who speaks for powerful forces in college athletics. His words may be read, and should be read, as a signal that the NCAA is poised to act in the wake of this trial – or, at the least, its membership is ready for it.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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