College basketball season is just beginning, but the sport already made headlines during the offseason. Scandals involving coaches, players and preseason rankings have been widespread throughout the world of collegiate athletics in recent months.
One major scandal in September was not enough to cause the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to exit its new 11-year, $128 million contract with Adidas it signed in August.
Nebraska was not a school named in the pay-to-play scandal. But, an FBI complaint, which became public on Sept. 26, accused a number of upper-echelon colleges of mishandling funds from the company, including Louisville, Miami, Arizona, Oklahoma State and the University of Southern California.
Different schools allegedly committed different violations. In some cases, athletes were funneled money and gear through Adidas representatives and various athletic departments directly in an attempt to persuade them to attend a certain school. In others, families were given money to pay their bills.
The most shocking part of the scandal, however, was the revelation that Adidas was directly paying coaches, typically assistants, to funnel players to certain agents and other business. Adidas allegedly paid these people to direct the players to align themselves with an Adidas-sponsored school or toward Adidas sponsorships after college.
Former Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino was the biggest casualty of the FBI’s findings. Reports by the Louisville Courier Journal said Pitino took in an additional $1.5 million in cash from the deal between the school and Adidas, while only $10,000 to $25,000 went to the athletic department.
ESPN said Adidas typically lets the school do what it wants with the money, but Louisville’s new contract, signed in August, has new language that changes that policy so all of it goes to the school, instead of being transferred directly to a coach.
Katja Schreiber, vice president of corporate communication for Adidas, said the money was always intended to go directly to the school instead of going to coaches and players.
Typical deals, she said, have certain set amounts of cash, free clothing and shoes and other gear the university receives and distributes.
The scandal centered around college basketball and top recruits, but it may have also stretched to players after their college careers.
Some Nebraska basketball fans joked about the brand and the school’s association, saying if Nebraska was cheating and still not winning, they were paying the wrong players or cheating too well by losing to not expose themselves. Nebraska’s 2016 recruiting class ranked 55th in the country — according to 247Sports’ composite recruiting rankings — behind eight conference opponents.
Nebraska does not have many former players who are still playing basketball professionally. Two recent graduates who play overseas are Tai Webster and Terran Petteway. Chris Patrick represents both of them as a National Basketball Players Association certified agent. Brandon Ubel also plays overseas and is a client of Pensack Sports.
Neither Patrick nor Pensack were named in the FBI report.
No FBI reports named Nebraska, but university news director Steve Smith said the Nebraska Athletic Department is aware of the problem and is talking about it.
“There's nothing at this point that would lead us to presume that we're involved,” Smith said in a statement released by the university.
Although Nebraska is uninvolved at this point, the scandal comes in the wake of Nebraska and Adidas signing a new contract just six weeks prior to the release of the FBI complaint. The new contract runs through 2028 and is worth $128 million over its lifetime.
In the same statement, Smith said there is no effect on the relationship between the university and its gear supplier.
“We don't feel that we have any concerns at this time,” Smith said. “We feel like it's a separate matter, and it shouldn't affect that agreement in any way.”
Nebraska is one of three Big Ten schools to wear Adidas gear, along with Indiana and Rutgers. Neither of those schools are believed to have ties to the scandal.
Hypothetically speaking, if Nebraska tampered with the recruiting process, the penalties would be severe. Players found to have received illegal benefits would be ineligible to play for at least one season. The school would have to pay fines, go on postseason probation and the coach or coaches involved would be fired.
Nebraska is still believed to be unassociated with the scandal, but the federal investigation, as well as the school’s internal investigation, is ongoing. While it certainly raises some questions about the way schools deal with athletic gear suppliers and recruits, this scandal is still new and could prove to be more widespread as additional evidence is uncovered. Regardless, it’s sure to have significant implications on business dealings within the college basketball world.