Christian Dawkins, James Gatto and Merl Code are on trial in federal court in New York for wire fraud and conspiracy. But the real question isn't whether they did or didn't do what they are accused of doing -- because they will admit what they did. The real question is whether there was a crime committed at all.
Dawkins, Gatto and Code are the first three defendants brought to trial in the FBI's investigation into the seedy underbelly of college basketball. The three men are accused of paying players. But who are the victims in this?
On Thursday, Bruce Bowen testified about the offers he received for his son, Bruce II (otherwise known as Tugs) from various schools around the country. He had (monetary) offers from Oklahoma State, DePaul, Creighton and Louisville. He chose the money Louisville was offering him -- or, more precisely, his father chose Louisville.
The feds (and the NCAA) are trying to make out the schools as the victims in this vast conspiracy. The only problem is that the schools are ankle deep in their own shit. It is no secret that schools have orchestrated payments to football and basketball players for decades. Usually the money -- or the "show up" job -- came from boosters which allowed the schools to deny any knowledge of the practice. That worked out well until SMU pissed in the punch bowl and had their football program shut down for lack of institutional control.
Over the years other schools have done things far worse than the boosters at SMU did during the heyday of the Pony Express. But no other school has ever had their football or basketball program shut down. The NCAA saw the damage that caused (SMU has never recovered from the death penalty and will likely never do so), and have let major schools off with slaps on the wrist for behavior that SMU boosters would find shady.
Meanwhile NCAA officials, conference commissioners, head coaches, television executives and casino sports books continue to make money hand over fist from college football and basketball while the players receive a scholarship and a small stipend. Everyone is getting paid except the athletes. But the NCAA doesn't want you to focus on that inconvenient little fact. They bring out their smoke and mirrors to distract your attention.
The NCAA wants you to believe that the principal of amateurism is at the heart of college athletics and that student athletes compete for the thrill of the competition itself. And they will throw the book at any athlete who admits to receiving any payment from a booster. They will suspend him and call him dishonest and a disgrace.
But no one has anything to say about football coaches making over $5 million a year coaching these amateur athletes.
The defense strategy is to admit to everything with regard to paying players. While that may be a violation of NCAA rules, it is not a criminal offense. Who was defrauded? Not the schools - they knew what was going on and they turned a blind eye to it. The job of their compliance officers was to cover up what they could and to create plausible deniability should anyone ever come knocking on their door.
The players weren't defrauded. They got paid. The fans weren't defrauded. They continued to buy tickets and watch games on the tube.
This trial is a waste of time and money. It is an attempt by the NCAA to cover up its own problems and to defend shamateurism.