Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fraud charges rock college hoops - and Tech's new pals at Adidas

Last month, Georgia Tech allied its athletic program with Adidas. As of Tuesday morning, Adidas has -- to borrow a line from a Tech employee -- bigger fish to fry. Three people with Adidas ties, its head of global sports marketing included, were charged in a Manhattan federal court for corruption regarding college basketball.

Note, please: The investigating body in this case is not the toothless/clueless NCAA; it's the big-footin' federal government.

Four college assistant coaches -- Chuck Person of Auburn, once Charles Barkley's running mate, among them -- were arrested. But the biggest news, ACC- and Adidas-wise, was that Louisville, last seen defending itself in the strippers-in-the-dorm case, will apparently need further defending. Court documents allege that a player's family was to receive $100,000 for his commitment to a certain school and his agreement to represent a certain apparel company after turning pro.

The apparel company is Adidas. The school is identified as "University-6," a "public research university in Kentucky" with an enrollment of 22,640 -- meaning Louisville. The player is believed to be Bruce Bowen, a 5-star recruit who made what ace journalist Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal deemed "a surprising late commitment" in early June.

Louisville plays in Tech's conference. Louisville is affiliated with Adidas. Bigger question: Could this, finally, be the torpedo that sinks the apparently unsinkable Rick Pitino, who has held his job through not one but two sex-related scandals?

This isn't to cast aspersions-by-association on Tech, which remains a Russell Athletic school until next summer. But it does besmirch the three-stripe brand, which recently saw its sneaker sales move into second place in the U.S. market behind Nike . Said Joon H. Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

"The picture painted by the charges brought today is not a pretty one. Coaches at some of the nation's top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes. Managers and financial advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes. And employees of one of the world's largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits.

"For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March. Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes."

Kim said the investigation was conducted via a confidential informer and agents working undercover. In sum, this is a major production.

Beyond Person and Auburn, the other three arrested coaches work for Oklahoma State, Arizona and USC. None of those is an Adidas school. Auburn's head coach, however, is Bruce Pearl, who was given a show-cause penalty after his ouster at Tennessee for lying to NCAA investigators.

Miami, also of the ACC, is an Adidas school. Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports suggests t hat Miami is the other school included but not named in the feds' filing .

Anyone who hangs around college basketball hears whispers -- often more than whispers -- of shenanigans. A coach of a high-profile program once asked if I knew how another high-profile program got a certain blue-chip recruit. "They gave him $130,000," he said.

I mentioned this to the coach of the other program. "You know what that means?" he said. "That their last offer was $125,000."

College basketball has long been the source of squalor, from point-shaving at schools like Kentucky and Boston College to the murder of a player at Baylor to, er, strippers in the dorm. (We around here will never forget Tony Cole, formerly of Georgia, as whistle-blower and Jim Harrick Jr. as educator.) But this has the potential to be as big, meaning as bad, as any.

Last month, this correspondent averred that Adidas has always been cool . Having three men affiliated with your company hit with federal charges would seem to fall under the heading of "Not Cool."

I still love my Stan Smiths, though. And nobody paid me to wear them. Other way around, actually.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.