NEW YORK – The presence of Jerry Sandusky notwithstanding, Penn State football under the late Joe Paterno took immense pride in its track record of following NCAA rules.
Paterno called it his “Grand Experiment”, the idea that across his 46 years as head coach, his football team could win with a commitment to academics and never resorting to paying the players.
Well, in an unexpected twist, the first day of the second federal corruption trial involving college basketball swerved into college football and Paterno’s supposed legacy of compliance, although the Penn State figure allegedly in the middle of it vehemently denied any wrongdoing to Yahoo Sports.
Marty Blazer, a former longtime Pittsburgh-area financial planner who has pleaded guilty to defrauding clients, testified Tuesday for the government. Blazer discussed that from 2000-13, he routinely paid top college football players in violation of NCAA rules in hopes they would let him invest their money when they made the NFL. He cited, without naming names or specifics, players at Pitt, Penn State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Alabama and North Carolina.
In more detail, he discussed the time in 2008-09 when he said he had an NFL client whose father was also an assistant football coach at Penn State. The only person on the Nittany Lion staff at that time who fits that description was longtime assistant Larry Johnson Sr., who now works at Ohio State, and whose son was an NFL running back.
Blazer said the assistant coach set up a meeting in State College between the assistant, Blazer and the father of a Penn State player who was considering entering the NFL draft rather than return for another season of college football.
At the meeting, Blazer testified the assistant asked him to provide $10,000 to the player’s father to take some financial stress out of the decision. Blazer said he did it. The player, according to Blazer, turned pro anyway and was drafted 11th overall.
In the 2009 draft, the Buffalo Bills drafted defensive end Aaron Maybin out of Penn State. Blazer said the father of the player returned the $10,000.
“The coach wanted the player to consider staying,” Blazer testified. “The player was leaning on coming out. The coach, in an effort to convince the player to stay in school, set up a meeting with me and the player’s dad.”
Blazer said in exchange for the payment, the player “would consider me as his financial adviser.”
Reached by Yahoo Sports on Tuesday, Johnson Sr. adamantly denied Blazer's assertions.
"That is not accurate at all," Johnson said. "That is absolutely false. I would never, ever ask anybody to do that. That is not me."
Johnson said he was dumbfounded by the allegation, which even if true would have occurred over a decade ago and never had come up.
"Why is it that something like that comes out and nobody says anything to me?” Johnson Sr. said. “This is the first call I've gotten. All of a sudden this Marty Blazer guy can just say whatever he wants? That is absolutely amazing. Wow."
Johnson Sr., 67, acknowledged that Blazer represented his son while in the NFL, but Blazer had no direct business ties with him.
The allegation is highly unlikely to attract NCAA attention, even with Johnson Sr. still coaching at Ohio State.
It is only interesting because it is a rare allegation of NCAA violations concerning Penn State under Paterno.
While a would-be financial adviser paying the family of a future first-round draft pick is not unusual, the idea of an assistant coach not just knowing about such an arrangement, but actually brokering it would be a major infraction.
Neither Maybin nor his family could immediately be reached, but Johnson Sr. hoped they would share their opinion of Blazer’s allegations.
"I've been in college football a long time. In my entire coaching career, I've never had anything like this said,” Johnson Sr. said. “I'm floored, I really am."
As far as Blazer’s credibility, it can be considered two ways. He is an admitted felon, pleading guilty to two counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission and one count of aggravated identity theft. He is facing a maximum sentence of 67 years in prison.
Earlier this decade, Blazer stole clients’ money to invest in the music industry and two motion picture projects (a mafia and a horror film, of course). He then turned into a government cooperating witness, allowing his phones to be bugged, wearing wire taps and pretending to be seeking entry into serving as a financial adviser to NBA players.
To get into the basketball world, he posed, using government funds, as a money man willing to pay high school and college players, plus their families and handlers.
Blazer, 49, is the impetus for the entire college basketball fraud case that has resulted in numerous convictions and plea deals. Basketball middleman Christian Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code are standing trial this week on bribery charges.
So Blazer is not a reputable person and on the stand came across as nervous, gulping water while sporting a bizarre haircut – clean shaven up to the scalp with a slicked back comb-over on top.
That said, he was under oath and working on behalf of federal prosecutors. If he is found to lie at all, he wouldn’t just lose the chance at a leniency consideration at sentencing but be subject to further prosecution. What would be his motivation to make up a detailed and fairly specific 10-year-old lie that multiple parties could, and likely would, refute?
His goal on Tuesday was to work toward getting “hopefully something much less than 67 years,” he said.
If that meant dishing an old allegation against Penn State, then so be it. The truth? Who knows, but Blazer will be back on the stand Wednesday morning when the trial continues.
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