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Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina)
In defending his client against charges of fraud, Merl Code Jr.'s attorney turned to murder to make his point.
Code, a Greenville native and former Clemson basketball star, and two co-defendants face conviction in the federal college basketball pay-to-play trial, accused of conspiring to funnel $100,000 in Adidas money to the family of Brian "Tugs" Bowen to steer him to play for the University of Louisville.
It's an accusation Code never denied but argued was moot because the Bowen family previously received payments from high school and AAU programs.
"Tugs Bowen had been rendered ineligible as far back as 2014 because of his father taking money," Code's attorney told the jury. "You can't kill a dead man. He was already dead."
The same logic might apply to college basketball as a whole after the sport was repeatedly bruised and battered throughout the course of the extensive fraud, corruption and bribery trial, which is set to head to jury deliberations Monday in New York.
Closing arguments wrapped Thursday, leaving 12 jurors to pick through the pieces of documents and witness testimony detailing gas station meetups, cash-stuffed magazines, secret "bat phones" and sham invoices.
The rampant corruption in college basketball, and just how deep those roots run through high school and travel ball programs, will surprise almost no one close to the sport.
The details uncovered in that Manhattan court room, however, are what a jury will use to determine the fate of three defendants and answer the question: How much does this all really matter?
Defense attorneys for the three men on trial - former Adidas consultant Code, Adidas executive James "Jim" Gatto and Christian Dawkins, an aspiring agent and a one-time runner for former NBA agent Andy Miller - would have you think it does not.
Everyone from coaches to apparel companies to agents to recruits, the defense argued, is complicit in the seedy nature of college hoops, and you can't be a co-conspirator and also a victim.
Gatto's attorney, Michael Schacter, claimed in closing Thursday that former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino and Kansas head coach Bill Self were aware of payments to players and that his client acted on behalf of the schools to help them - even though government witness T.J. Gassnola testified he did not tell Pitino or Self about the payments.
"The government wants you to believe Louisville is a crime victim?" Dawkins' attorney, Steve Haney, asked the jury incredulously.
Returning a conviction would give the feds affirmation that the months of wiretapping and undercover work was worth it; a non-guilty verdict might discourage them from pursuing additional arrests and weaken the government's case in two more trials slated for next year.
Adidas was the main focus in New York this month, but four former coaches associated with schools sponsored by Nike and Under Armour were arrested and charged last fall.
Ex-Auburn assistant Chuck Person and financial adviser Rashan Michel will be tried in February. Ex-USC assistant Tony Bland, ex-Arizona assistant Book Richardson and ex-Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans will be tried in April.
The result of this first trial will determine whether the NCAA and college coaches can afford to shrug it off as a "blip," as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski suggested this week, or whether they will be forced to face consequences beyond NCAA sanctions.
Accusations continued to mount against high-profile schools like Kansas and Louisville, along with others including Arizona, NC State, LSU, and DePaul. Other blue-chip programs like Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina were mentioned in passing but never directly implicated. Numerous recordings and documents were not allowed into evidence because they did not directly deal with the charges against the defendants.
It could take many more months of investigations for federal authorities to gather enough evidence to make additional arrests involving previously untouched schools. And even then, would the charges stick?
All of this is a tricky legal case and amounts to an even bigger headache for the NCAA, which will be tasked with combining evidence uncovered through the trials and through its own separate investigations to come up with punishments.
It remains to be seen if the NCAA will decide to investigate and penalize on a school-by-school basis, but there is regardless a lot of ground to cover.
This all goes to say that while the evidence presented in this month's trial may just be a drop in the bucket, the verdict will set the tone for how seriously these actions are treated in the future.
Jurors may decide that Gatto, Code and Dawkins broke the law and defrauded the universities in question.
Or they may decide that college basketball has suffered enough, that punishing schools and players for operating in a system that has been broken for far too long is useless.
- Louisville Courier Journal
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