Tom Keegan: What to make of Day 1 of college basketball trial

photo by: Nick Krug

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa (22) finishes a lob jam against West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) during the first half, Saturday, March 10, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Interesting first day of the trial on the scandal that has the potential to rock college basketball.

So let’s try to figure out what’s going on.

The feds are trying to prove that Adidas officials, including Jim Gatto, defrauded universities by stripping athletes of their amateur status by paying them without the knowledge of the schools.

Gatto believes he has a Get Out of Jail Free card, and through his attorney, he made it public Tuesday in a New York City courtroom: Prove that he was following the marching orders of coaches by paying this player to go to that Adidas school and that player to go to this Adidas school.

So it comes down to this: Gatto rats out his friends and former business partners who work as college basketball coaches if that’s what he thinks he needs to do to maintain his freedom.

Saying something happened isn’t proving it happened, either in federal court or in the world of NCAA investigations. It has to be backed up with evidence.

Gatto will be viewed as someone who has a great deal riding on the jury believing him in saying the coaches were in on the payments. He has his freedom riding on it, so he’ll be viewed as a biased witness because he has so much riding on the outcome. His word won’t be nearly enough. He’ll need credible evidence.

So will wiretaps reveal that coaches were orchestrating the payments?

My prosecutor friend’s guess would be no because if there were, one of two things likely would have happened: Either the coaches would be listed as co-conspirators, defrauding the very universities for which they work, or the feds would realize the schools weren’t being defrauded because the schools knew about the payments and would choose not to proceed with the case.

Interestingly, Gatto’s phone reportedly was wiretapped from Aug. 30, 2017, to Sept. 26, 2017. Aug. 30 happened to be the day that Silvio De Sousa told the Journal World’s Matt Tait that he was going to attend Kansas.

In the event the wiretaps reveal that Gatto paid or said he would pay De Sousa’s guardian, is Kansas free of NCAA sanctions if there is no proof KU’s coaches had any knowledge of it?

Not necessarily. The NCAA enacted a new rule in 2012 designed at closing the loophole that allowed Cam Newton to play for Auburn in the SEC and national championship games after the NCAA found that his father had shopped Newton for $200,000, but did not find that either Auburn or Newton knew anything about the deal.

This from an Associated Press story on the rule was released Jan. 11, 2012: “The Division I Amateurism Cabinet sponsored legislation that would include family members and other third parties who shop an athlete’s services to schools for financial gain. The Division I Legislative Council passed the proposal.”

So that one could go either way, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

Let’s go back to the federal case and away from the NCAA rulebook for the moment.

First, let’s take a look at how the feds might go about trying to prove that Gatto defrauded universities: Call chancellors and compliance officers to the stand to detail what lengths they go to in an attempt to comply with NCAA rules. How many compliance officers do you employ? How much money do you pay them? How do you educate student-athletes, coaches, boosters, etc. to give yourself the best shot at complying with NCAA rules?

Now let’s look at how the defense might proceed.

Gatto supplies every detail he can about coaches’ knowledge and/or instructions of his payments to student-athletes to try to prove he helped the universities by steering star players their way, which enabled those schools to generate big bucks. The defense calls those coaches as witnesses to testify under oath with the penalty of perjury, compelling them to either tell the truth or plead the Fifth.

It’s conceivable that a compliance officer could be called by the prosecution and the same school’s basketball coach could be called by the defense.

Good thing this drama playing out in a court room in New York City isn’t a Western. I’d hate to be the wardrobe supervisor in charge of assigning the white and black cowboy hats.

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