The 2017 NCAA Division I men's basketball corruption scandal is an ongoing corruption scandal involving sportswear manufacturer Adidas as well as several college basketball programs associated with the brand.
On September 26, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of 10 individuals, including assistant coaches Anthony Bland, Chuck Person, Emanuel Richardson, and Lamont Evans and Adidas executive James Gatto, on various corruption and fraud charges including bribery, money laundering, and wire fraud. The schools implicated in the initial announcement were Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Southern California (USC).
The investigation has since spread beyond the individuals and teams initially implicated. Shortly afterwards, multiple media reports indicated that the Elite Youth Basketball League, the grassroots basketball division of Nike, was served with a subpoena by federal investigators. While Nike was not named in the initial documents, one of the 10 individuals arrested on September 26 was a former Nike executive who was working for Adidas when he was arrested.
The discovery of corruption in basketball stemmed from an investigation of Pittsburgh-based financial planner Marty Blazer by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In 2016, the SEC charged Blazer with wire fraud and accused him of embezzling over $2 million from several professional athletes to invest in movie projects and finance Ponzi schemes. As part of a plea agreement with the Southern District U.S. Attorney's office, he agreed to become an FBI informant, and would later plead guilty to reduced charges.
Person, a former Auburn basketball star who went on to a long NBA career before going into coaching, was alleged by the FBI to have received over $90,000 in bribes from Rashan Michel, a former NBA and Southeastern Conference referee who ran a custom tailoring shop in Atlanta that had many professional athletes as clients. Person was accused of paying nearly $20,000 to the families of two Auburn recruits. Auburn suspended Person without pay shortly after his arrest. Person was indicted by a federal grand jury and subsequently fired by Auburn on November 7, 2017. In the wake of the indictments, the university retained an outside law firm to launch an internal investigation into the program.
Before Auburn's exhibition game on November 2, 2017, the school announced that it would hold players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy out of games indefinitely due to eligibility concerns raised over the FBI investigation.
On November 8, ESPN reported that head coach Bruce Pearl was refusing to cooperate with the school's internal investigation, and that university officials notified him that his refusal could lead to his firing. The university had been unable to determine whether Pearl had been involved in any violations of law or NCAA rules because the FBI had seized his computers and cell phones as part of its investigation.
Louisville was not named directly in the court documents, but the documents mentioned a "University-6" that was "a public research university located in Kentucky" with "approximately 22,640 students and over 7,000 faculty and staff members", and fielding "approximately 21 varsity sports teams in NCAA Division I competition." The state has only two public research universities—the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville—and the details cited in the documents match only Louisville. Gregory Postel, Louisville's interim president, confirmed hours after the FBI announcements that the school was indeed "University-6". At the time of the announcement, the Louisville men's basketball program was facing major NCAA sanctions stemming from an earlier sex scandal.
The documents also alluded to two Louisville coaches, identified only as "Coach-1" and "Coach-2", and a recruit who signed with Louisville identified as "Player-10". The documents allege that the coaches were involved in a scheme by which a "Company-1", later identified as Adidas, would funnel $100,000 to the family of "Player-10" in exchange for him coming to Louisville. About a month before the scandal broke, Louisville, which has been Adidas' flagship college athletic program since 2016, signed a 10-year, $160 million extension to its then-current apparel contract with the company. The documents indicate that Brad Augustine, a youth basketball coach in Florida who was among the individuals arrested, said the following about "Coach-2":
No one swings a bigger d*** than Coach-2 at Company-1. . . . All [Coach-2] has to do is pick up the phone and call somebody [and say], 'These are my guys.' [And then] they're taking care of us.
The day after the complaints were unsealed, CBS News, followed by many other media outlets, reported that "Coach-2" was Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. Shortly thereafter, media outlets identified "Player-10" as Brian Bowen, a top recruit who had unexpectedly signed with Louisville on June 3, 2017.
As a result of the scandal, on September 27, 2017, Louisville placed Pitino on unpaid administrative leave and athletic director Tom Jurich on paid administrative leave. Bowen was suspended from the team and withheld from all team activities. In addition, two five-star high school recruits who had verbally committed to join the Louisville program in 2018–19, Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey, rescinded their commitments and reopened their recruitment. The Cardinals lost a third recruit on October 4 when David Johnson, a guard from the local Trinity High School who was rated as a top-50 prospect in the recruiting class of 2019 and had verbally committed to Louisville, rescinded his commitment. Two other five-star prospects for 2018 who had placed Louisville within their final choices, Moses Brown and Romeo Langford (the latter from nearby New Albany, Indiana), removed the Cardinals from their lists in the wake of the scandal.
On October 6 the University of Louisville placed associate head coach Kenny Johnson and assistant coach Jordan Fair on paid administrative leave, and Fair would be fired by Louisville on October 11.
On November 8, the Southern District unsealed a new set of indictments against eight of the 10 individuals initially charged. On the same day, NBC News reported that these new documents directly linked Pitino to the alleged scheme to pay Bowen's family. The documents allege that Pitino met in July 2017 with Christian Dawkins, an agent who was formally indicted in both September and November. During that meeting, Dawkins was said to have asked Pitino to call Gatto and request the $100,000 payment to Bowen's family, and Pitino reportedly agreed to make the call to Gatto. The FBI revealed that phone records indicated that Pitino called Gatto three times before Bowen committed to Louisville.
Like Louisville, the University of Miami was not directly identified in the court documents, but UM president Julio Frenk confirmed on September 27 that the school was the institution described in said documents as "University-7". The confirmation came the day after the attorney for UM head coach Jim Larrañaga said that the coach was unaware of any impropriety in the program. The documents allege that a UM coach identified only as "Coach-3" requested that Gatto arrange a $150,000 payment from Adidas to the family of a top high school player identified as "Player-12" in an attempt to keep him from signing with a "University-4" that was sponsored by a rival apparel company.
Lamont Evans, at the time an assistant at Oklahoma State, was one of the four coaches arrested on September 26. He was accused of taking at least $22,000 in bribes from two financial advisors, one of whom was acting as an FBI informant. The alleged bribes were offered over a five-year period that included Evans' former tenure as an assistant at South Carolina. Oklahoma State fired Evans on September 28.
Oklahoma State lost one potential recruit due to the scandal. On the same day Evans was fired, Antwann Jones, a guard ranked by ESPN as one of the top 50 players in the recruiting class of 2018, rescinded a verbal commitment he had made to the program less than two weeks earlier.
In the aftermath of the announcement of the FBI investigation, Alabama director of basketball operations Kobie Baker resigned following an internal investigation into the program. This resignation came after the school uncovered that Baker had accepted bribes to steer one of Alabama's incoming freshman players toward financial advisor Rashan Michel. Baker allegedly accepted a $5,000 payment for arranging a meeting between Michel and the father of the player, and an additional $10,000 for helping to steer the player toward Michel.
Before Alabama's exhibition game on November 6, 2017, the school announced that freshman point guard Collin Sexton would not play that game due to eligibility concerns. Sexton would later be cleared to play for Alabama on November 14, in their game against Lipscomb University.