The NCAA’s eponymous “off the ramp” infractions, which for so long has been a road to nowhere, finally delivered their first ruling. The end result is a lot like everything else about the federal college basketball corruption investigation – tougher on fired black assistant coaches than anyone else.
The Independent Accountability Review Process handed the state of North Carolina its fate Monday, and Wolfpack can breathe. They are eligible to compete in the 2022 postseason, although the current 7-4 team will have to work hard to make it to the NCAA Tournament. There were some light recruiting penalties and the usual fines, but the postseason ban was not evaluated.
(Panel chair Dana Welch cited a reluctance to “punish currently competing students.” It remains to be seen whether this first IARP resolution sets a lax precedent for eager fans in Louisville, Kansas, LSU, Arizona, and Memphis. ).
The most significant penalties were applied to two former NC State coaches, and the differences between penalties are stark. This matches everything else that has happened since the FBI began investigating the college basketball sausage factory.
Former head coach Mark Gottfried was given a one-year penalty for apparent cause, which is theoretically a big deal for a current head coach, but not really much. Gottfried is at Cal State-Northridge, but has been on paid administrative leave since the spring due to other possible violation of the rules at that school. Monday’s news gives Northridge one more reason to end his relationship with Gottfried at some point, although the school is not there yet, according to a statement from his athletic director.
Former assistant coach Orlando Early made it that much more difficult. Early received a six-year display cause for his hands-on involvement in arranging for Adidas bag man TJ Gassnola to pay $ 40,000 to a representative of the family of former top recruit Dennis Smith, Jr. Gassnola exposed the plot in federal court, handing the NCAA a huge case that ends closer to a whimper.
Early did not cooperate with the NCAA investigation, essentially targeting the harsh penalty imposed on him. But his fate also underscores the age-old inequality of the crime and punishment system in college sports.
Coaching aides, most of whom are black, take the great risks of hiring and pay high prices when caught breaking the rules. The often white head coaches isolate themselves enough to proclaim plausible denial and save their careers.
In 2017, the feds apprehended Chuck Person from Auburn, Lamont Evans from Oklahoma State, Tony Bland from USC and Emanuel “Book” Richardson from Arizona. All were fired by their schools. All were charged with federal crimes and pleaded guilty.
Since then, other black aides have found themselves in the crosshairs when the SDNY investigation became an NCAA investigation: Corey Barker at TCU; Preston Murphy at Creighton; Kurtis Townsend in Kansas; Kenny Johnson in Louisville; Early in NC State. Only Townsend’s employment is not affected (for now).
Person and Evans were punished with 10-year fines for the show. Barker was given a five-year display cause; Soso three years; Murphy two. And there’s Early’s just-enforced six-year sanction. Richardson, Johnson and Townsend should know their fate in 2022.
Your white bosses haven’t faced anything so terrible. Rick Pitino was quickly fired in Louisville, but that was due to a succession of scandals, and he’s already returned to being a college coach at Iona. Sean Miller was eventually fired in Arizona, but not before collecting several more years of a multi-million dollar salary. Auburn’s Bruce Pearl just served a whopping two-game suspension. LSU’s Will Wade was suspended for the end of the 2019 season, but that was more due to a refusal to meet with his superiors than to being caught in a wiretap discussing a “strong offer” for a recruit. Since then, he has trained without hindrance and earning a good salary.
And then there is Bill Self, the Teflon of the sport. Not only was Self not sanctioned by Kansas, but he was awarded a “life” contract last April, at least a year before knowing whether Self will face any penalties for his current infraction case.
The optics and mechanics of these violation cases remain incredibly bad for college athletics, but they never seem to change. Assistant Dwane Casey was left without college basketball for his role in a Kentucky scandal in the late 1980s, while his boss, Eddie Sutton, landed in Oklahoma state and continued a Hall of Fame career. Larry Gay and Scooter McCray lost their assistant coach jobs in Louisville in the 1990s, while Denny Crum remained untouchable. In soccer, Todd McNair’s college career ended in the Reggie Bush scandal at USC, while Pete Carroll flew out to become a star head coach in the NFL.
The defense in these cases is still ridiculous, but it is also effective: the head coach simply had no idea that violations were taking place under his nose. The NCAA got so tired of that excuse that it passed statutes calling for head coaches to be held accountable for what their assistants were doing, and yet they are still not being criticized exactly when penalties are imposed.
“As I knew it would happen, this decision reiterates that I had no knowledge of or participation in any payment,” Gottfried said in a statement through his attorney, Scott Tompsett. “While I am disappointed by the panel’s finding that I did not supervise enough, I am grateful that the panel recognizes that the facts warrant an attenuated sanction.”
Gottfried’s fingerprints weren’t in the money, but the violation report from the Violation Review Panel showed that it was barely in the dark where Gassnola was involved with NC State:
“In an interview by enforcement staff, (Gottfried) recalled arguing (Smith) with (Gassnola), but did not recall any details,” the report read. “In interviews with enforcement staff, members of the North Carolina State Department of Men’s Basketball recalled (Gassnola) being on campus, at practices, and at intercollegiate sporting events multiple times in 2015. Additionally, ( Gottfried) and (Early) communicated frequently with (Gassnola) during 2015, as extensively detailed in the factual account. As discussed in the factual statement, many of these communications were clustered around events important to the recruitment of would-be student-athlete No. 1, including the agreement for the payment of $ 40,000. “
The report delves into some of the details of those communications: “On November 2, 2015, the day (Gassnola) flew to Raleigh and delivered $ 40,000 in cash to (Early), (Gottfried) spoke by phone with (Gassnola) for six minutes and texted him twice. “The next day, Gottfried received two calls from Gassnola. And in the following week, before Smith signed his letter of intent with NC State, Gottfried exchanged one call and four texting with Gassnola.
Perhaps Gassnola saved all the money talk for his many conversations with Early and simply discussed the weather with Gottfried. It also seems reasonable to wonder if Gottfried would want to be intimately involved in every development related to the highest-rated recruit he has achieved in six seasons at NC State. Not demonstrating anything beyond talking about the weather is the difference between a one-year and six-year show cause.
Gottfried’s college coaching career should have ended at this point, but the fact that he landed another job and made so much more money amid this endless investigation revealed how easy it can be to pressure inept campus leaders. Northridge shocked the sport when they hired Gottfried and got what he deserves: three losing seasons and another investigation.
In the end, the system almost always rewards the head coaches. And in many ways, that system depends on guys like Early and Richardson not cooperating with the NCAA probes. It absolutely depends on guys like Glassnola telling investigators to pound sand.
Christian Dawkins, the con man at the center of the SDNY investigation, made his views clear in a 2020 documentary on the guilt of head coaches like Wade and Miller, who were caught on FBI wiretaps talking to him about players. . But what sticks to them is rarely as important as what sticks to attendees who struggle to make the deals. The state of North Carolina is the latest in a long list of such cases.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.