The recruitment of NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr.
N.C. State has started down what could be a long road with the NCAA.
How long it will take or what the fallout will be from the involvement of a former Wolfpack player with a sneaker company in a federal fraud case is still too early to predict.
As a proactive measure before learning the school was named in the case, N.C. State reached out to the NCAA in March about potential violations stemming from the FBI investigation into an adidas executive. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York announced on Tuesday that N.C. State was one of four schools allegedly defrauded by adidas executive Jim Gatto and two others.
No former or current N.C. State players or coaches have been indicted in the criminal case. According to the court documents, the father of a former N.C. State player, matching the description of Dennis Smith Jr., was allegedly paid $40,000 by adidas, and a former unidentified N.C. State coach (“Coach-4”) was involved in the payment.
On the surface, that would appear to be an open-and-shut NCAA violation. The usual NCAA punishments — vacating wins, scholarship reductions, a postseason ban — would all seem to be on the table for what the NCAA qualifies as a “major infraction.”
At least one expert in NCAA law is not ready to jump to that conclusion. Don Jackson has spent most of his professional life fighting the NCAA. The Montgomery-Ala.-based attorney has handled hundreds of NCAA eligibility cases, including basketball players Rodney Purvis (in 2011) and Omer Yurtseven (in 2016), while they were at N.C. State.
“I don’t see this as being as clear cut as it may appear to be,” Jackson said on Thursday in an interview. “Simply because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s provable or it’s true. In both criminal and NCAA cases, quite often, the initial allegations aren’t provable from an evidentiary standpoint.”
Jackson has worked on all different kinds of NCAA rules' cases, 400 to 500 by his own estimation. He has helped players with initial eligibility issues, transfer issues and recruits who have had amateurism issues, notably former McDonald’s All-American Marvin Stone in 2003 and Renardo Sidney with Mississippi State in 2009.
Jackson has not been involved in this case, but if experience has taught him anything with the NCAA, it’s you can’t predict what the NCAA will, or won’t, do.
“The NCAA has been so consistently inconsistent over the past 20 years, you can’t be sure of what constitutes a violation,” Jackson said.
The NCAA appears to be waiting in this case for the federal government to finish its criminal proceedings . The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York arrested 10 people in September, including four Division I assistant college coaches.
N.C. State received a subpoena from the FBI in January. The school publicly acknowledged it received the subpoena, which included a request for information about Smith, former head coach Mark Gottfried and former assistant coach Orlando Early, on March 9.
Shortly after, the school contacted the NCAA.
The timetable for N.C. State from here could be lengthy, Jackson said. The federal criminal case, which isn’t scheduled to go to trial until 2019, could take at least a year, Jackson predicted. The NCAA case could take another 18 months to two years, he said.
The only federal/NCAA case similar to this one — with a sneaker company (Nike), an AAU coach and the payment of players — Jackson noted, involved former Kansas City-based AAU coach Myron Piggie.
In April 2000, Piggie was indicted on 11 counts of fraud and eventually served 37 months in federal prisons. He was punished, but his former AAU players and their respective college programs got off relatively clean.
UCLA had to repay about $45,000 from its 1999 NCAA tournament appearance for former player JaRon Rush’s connection to Piggie and his AAU program.
Duke also had one of Piggie’s former players, Corey Maggette, for the 1998-99 season. But Duke did not face NCAA penalties for Maggette’s connections to Piggie.
Like Smith at N.C. State, Maggette was a “one-and-done” player whose problems surfaced after he left for the NBA. In 2004, the NCAA did not punish Duke for any of the issues connected with Maggette and Piggie.
N.C. State finished with a 15-17 record, including a 4-14 mark in the ACC, and did not make the NCAA tournament during Smith's lone college season in 2016-17.
There are different details in this case for N.C. State, notably the alleged inclusion of a coach involved in a payment to a player’s family, from the Duke and the Piggie case.
Still, Jackson said, it’s too early to speculate what will happen with N.C. State and the NCAA. N.C. State only has to look at the length of North Carolina’s academic issues with the NCAA. That case took seven years for the NCAA to resolve, without major penalties to UNC, in October.
Ultimately, Jackson said, N.C. State will be faced with the same question as the other schools involved in the FBI probe: “Are they going to buckle?”
“There are some schools that will aggressively defend their student-athletes and coaches against the NCAA,” Jackson said. “There are some that will not. Is N.C. State going to attempt to throw a player or a coach under the bus, in order to look out for themselves?”