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Jury Delivers Guilty Verdict In College Basketball Corruption Case


A federal jury in New York has found three people guilty of fraud. They were convicted yesterday of paying tens of thousands of dollars to the families of top-flight basketball recruits. One of those convicted, James Gatto, worked for Adidas and steered certain students to Adidas-sponsored colleges, schools with storied basketball programs such as the universities of Kansas and Louisville are among them. Louisville's longtime coach Rick Pitino was forced out of a job over all this, but he was not even brought on trial. Now joining us to talk about this case and what the NCAA can do to clean up corruption in college athletics is Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone, also a familiar voice on our program. Hey there, Kevin.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: Hey. How you doing, David?

GREENE: I'm good. Thank you. So what does all this mean for college basketball as a whole? What happened yesterday?

BLACKISTONE: You know, I'm not sure it means anything for college basketball in total because what happened here was a pretty isolated incident. But what it does is it exposes the recruiting practices that have been going on in big-time college athletics and football and particularly in basketball for as long as I can remember. And that is basically the channeling of money from one source to the families of talent to ensure that that talent goes to a particular school.

And what has happened over the years is that the manufacturers of basketball shoes - Adidas, Nike - those operations have gotten people in the middle of them to help transfer that money. So the surprise here is that it has been criminalized by the federal government, as opposed to be policed by the NCAA as it's been done for years. And it used to be that the worst thing that would happen in this situation is that someone would be banned from the NCAA, a coach was who was caught funneling money or some middleman.

GREENE: Now it's actually going to trial, which is a step.

BLACKISTONE: Absolutely. Now, you could possibly go behind bars, which is what these three men are facing.

GREENE: Well, you have these three men facing that you say. But I wonder, your colleague at The Washington Post, Sally Jenkins, wrote recently that the real defendant here should be a university, but the universities are actually considered victims in all of this. Do you see it the same way that she does?

BLACKISTONE: I don't see it that way, but that was the way that the federal government decided to get involved in this. Basically, they said that the universities were being defrauded by this system because by funneling this money to players or players' families, these people knew that they were making these players ineligible under NCAA rules and therefore that, at some point, it would all be found out and they wouldn't be allowed to play to the universities that had given them scholarships. And therefore, they had defrauded the universities of value. Which is a very strange thing to me because I still don't know how that's fraud. I mean, universities - university basketball programs and football programs are still going to get these talented players under their very low level of remuneration for athletic talent that brings them tens of million dollars in revenue every year.

GREENE: Which speaks to what you said, this is something that - this is just a drop in the bucket in terms of potential real change here.

BLACKISTONE: It really is.

GREENE: Kevin Blackistone, sports columnist for The Washington Post, also teaches journalism at the University of Maryland. Thanks, as always.


GREENE: You heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Noel King. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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