On Wednesday, a jury of eight returned with unanimous guilty verdicts against Jim Gatto, a former Adidas marketing executive, Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant, and Christian Dawkins, an aspiring sports agent, after three days and 18 hours’ worth of deliberations. The defendants were convicted on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, for defrauding National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) schools by paying athletes to attend Adidas-sponsored schools, specifically Louisville, Kansas, and North Carolina State.
Most famously, Brian ‘Tugs’ Bowen’s father, Brian Bowen Sr., accepted nearly $20,000 from Munish Sood, a former colleague of Dawkins, who had pled guilty earlier in the week and agreed to testify against the remaining defendants as part of his agreement with the government. Bowen Sr. accepted the money in the summer of 2017 for his son to attend the University of Louisville, an Adidas school, instead of the University of Oregon, a Nike school.
The relationships between sport apparel companies, such as Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and Reebok, have been long-lasting and well-documented. Companies begin attracting young players using their pre-college basketball camps and ‘grassroots’ leagues, sponsor multitudes of college teams, and eventually hope to sign star players to multi-million dollar endorsement deals.
As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that the defendants used unregulated measures to entice athletes to attend Adidas schools. What is surprising is the nature of said dealings: Gatto would disguise the money as a normal expense and the money would be given to athletes in the form of cash in parking lots and hotel rooms. It was so shady that Cole and Dawkin were caught joking in a secretly recorded FBI video that they were “surprised there aren’t more murders.”
Despite all this, the defendants still denied breaking the law. They did not deny that their conduct broke NCAA amateurism rules, however, which prohibits NCAA athletes from accepting payments outside of college scholarships. The prosecution relied on a claim that the universities were also victims who were duped by the defendants into unwitting playing and granting scholarships to ineligible athletes. As a result, though the judge constantly reminded jurors that it was the defendants and not the NCAA rules that were standing trial, the NCAA’s archaic rules, where college athletes earn an almost non-existent fraction of the billion dollar industry, were impossible to ignore.
But for the most part, the NCAA has been business as usual, though rumors have already begun that this scandal may lead to the demise of the NBA’s already controversial “one-and-done” rule. It should be interesting to see how this conviction will affect the next two highly anticipated college basketball-related criminal trials: a bribery charge against Chuck Connors Person, former Auburn University basketball coach, and a bribery charge against three former NCAA assistant coaches.
Jess Hui is a Sports and Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).
Image: Adam Glanzman, Michigan Daily, Peyton Siva hoists Louisville’s NCAA championship trophy in 2013, CC BY 2.0