Three times, Kevin Keatts was asked about the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting, each question more general than the next. Three times, the new N.C. State coach refused to entertain answering, not even to discuss the state of basketball recruiting in general.
It was a tough spot for Keatts, who had the misfortune to wake up and find out that N.C. State’s media day turned out to be the same day the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York blew the doors off college basketball by charging four college assistant coaches and six other people, including two who work for adidas, with fraud.
The FBI said these charges, some of which alleged adidas employees directed recruits to Louisville and Miami based on the information in the complaint, could merely be the beginning.
Keatts worked for Rick Pitino at Louisville, but long before any of the criminal conduct alleged Tuesday took place; he has worked at three schools associated with adidas, including N.C. State; and the player who, apparently and allegedly, was bribed to attend Louisville had considered attending N.C. State.
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To be perfectly clear, neither Keatts nor N.C. State is associated in any way with the charges announced Tuesday. The connections listed above are entirely circumstantial, and may be entirely coincidental. At this point, there’s no reason to believe otherwise.
But there are clearly college coaches out there somewhere who read Tuesday’s complaints and know the FBI is likely to to come for them. And coaches who do things the right way – and they are out there – will find solace when the FBI does.
There’s every reason to believe that the FBI has a lot more evidence against a lot more people. An indication of that: The two unsealed complaints reference “Player-10” and “Player-11” but we don’t know who players 1-9 are, nor the identity of a competing shoe company that allegedly offered a bribe that the adidas employees were allegedly trying to outbid. Louisville appears to be “University-6” and Miami appears to be “University-7.” That leaves at least five other universities who were involved in some way, whether explicitly or unwillingly. (In Louisville’s case, the affidavit alleges an assistant coach encouraged the bribery.)
“We will be continuing to investigate,” said Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “We will see how pervasive it is.”
Anyone who has spent any time around college basketball has always assumed it to be extremely pervasive: Eyes roll every time a player who appeared ticketed for one school ends up somewhere else at the last minute. The entire recruiting process, especially at the top end, rides along on a cushion of dirty money, all of it orchestrated to avoid the blurry vision and toothless sanction of the NCAA.
The FBI is an entirely different animal, ruthlessly efficient and wielding the hammer of subpoena power. Criminal charges carry weight the NCAA can’t imagine. Don’t forget, that’s what it took to wedge the UNC scandal into the open. Julius Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder don’t talk to Ken Wainstein if there aren’t charges, or the threat of charges, against them in Orange County. There are charges against assistant coaches now. There will clearly be more.
So while the ACC ponders its festering Louisville problem – the conference recidivism champion since joining the league – the rest of college basketball will be pondering just where the FBI’s hammer will fall next. And, in some cases, scurrying for legal cover.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock