Mark Emmert's absence from hoops trial shows how much he cares about corruption in the sport

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

NEW YORK – There is plenty of open seats and empty space inside Courtroom 26B of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan federal courthouse here in Lower Manhattan.

The big, wood-paneled room with sweeping views of Midtown is home to the college basketball fraud trial and so there are some media, family of the defendants, a couple onlookers and lots of lawyers. But the benches are only half-filled, certainly plenty of room for one man who should absolutely, positively be here.

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Mark Emmert, NCAA president.

When this scandal broke over a year ago, Emmert did his best Casablanca and expressed shock that college basketball could be so overrun by middle men, shoe companies and under-the-table payments. He then established a commission headed by Condoleezza Rice to find out what was going on and recommend something, mostly the status quo.

Well, the first of the three trials in this scandal is in full swing and the sport is being laid bare. None of it is a shock to anyone who has been paying attention, but as wiretaps, hidden videos and FBI-raid secured documents began being entered into evidence, the sheer breadth and brazenness of the activity is still something to behold.

If Emmert wants to have even the faintest understanding of how the NCAA’s big-money sport really operates, his blue-ribbon panel shouldn’t involve Condi Rice and Grant Hill. He can just listen to hours of candid conversation between runner-turned-would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins and Adidas consultant Merl Code while they were about to buy a player.

At the very least he could show up and pretend.

NCAA president Mark Emmert couldn’t be bothered to see firsthand how corrupt college basketball has gotten. (AP file photo)
NCAA president Mark Emmert couldn’t be bothered to see firsthand how corrupt college basketball has gotten. (AP file photo)

On Wednesday that would have meant hearing a practical dissertation on how to use contacts with AAU coaches – and donations to their 501 (c) (3) charities – to get in with top talent at the youngest possible age; begin plying the player and his family with attention and money; use Adidas, financial planners and sports agents to fund the operation; eventually ship the player to a preferred college program (where the coach might help you with some of his other talent); and then get the guy back when he turns pro and profit off his NBA earnings for decades to come.

It’s an old business. But the NCAA has never been all that interested in truly hearing the truth about it. The association was planning on sending a representative to court, but it didn’t respond to questions confirming attendance. Even so, that’s likely just its lawyers, not the president who is paid handsomely to guide it.

Consider the case of Brian Bowen, who Dawkins knew since both grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. Coming out of high school though, Dawkins and Code discussed on tape how Bowen was headed to the University of Oregon but then proudly discussed how that was foiled.

“Their offer was astronomical,” Dawkins said.

“It was astronomical,” Code agreed.

“I said, ‘He is not going there,'” Dawkins said, knowing that he might not be able to sign the player later if he went to Eugene where Dawkins lacks contacts.

“‘Wait a minute, let me work the phone, we’ll get something done,'” Code said.

In this case that meant getting Adidas to pay Bowen’s father $100,000 to have his son attend Louisville, an Adidas-school. Oregon, with its ties to Nike, was out.

“It got done in, what, two, three days?” Dawkins said on tape. “It was very simple and everybody won.”

There were some problems though. When Brian Bowen Sr. came looking for his first $25,000 payment, the backchannel invoice they were working at Adidas wasn’t properly set up. Bowen wanted his cash. Instead they had to lean on Munish Sood, a New Jersey financial planner who regularly funded the budding sports agency.

Sood didn’t put up cash for the first payment this time. An undercover FBI agent going by the name Jeff DeAngelo did. Sood did serve as the bag man, meeting Bowen Sr. in a parking lot of a Morristown, New Jersey, and handing him $19,400 in cash.

“This [expletive makes me] very nervous,” Sood said on tape in a conversation with Dawkins. “I don’t want to run around and drop cash off to people I don’t know.”

The meeting was poorly planned. Bowen Sr. flew in from Louisville to get the money but apparently got confused and rather than book a flight for the more convenient Newark airport, he went to New York’s LaGuardia, then had to rent a car and took forever to arrive. Dawkins questioned Bowen Sr.’s intelligence. Sood brought him a sandwich figuring he was hungry and felt bad.

“He said he’d invite me to Louisville to watch his son play and meet the family,” Sood said on tape. Everyone felt good after that, expressing confidence that the Bowens were a done deal when Brian turned pro.

Dawkins and Code would say on tape that they liked working with Louisville because they could trust they’d get the player back and it was an Adidas school. Some programs were tougher for them to crack, namely Kentucky and Oregon. Even Kansas, despite being with Adidas, had undisclosed “connections” that made sending top players there risky.

“I can funnel those kids to my sponsor schools, I win at the grassroots level, my colleges win and then hopefully I can sign them as pros,” Code said on tape.

Later they discussed Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s role in all of this.

“If you ask Rick Pitino what happened he’d say he doesn’t know,” Code said.

“He probably doesn’t know,” Dawkins said.

“He does know something,” Code said. “He doesn’t know everything … plausible deniability.”

The Bowen deal didn’t work out because the FBI stepped in. Code and Dawkins wound up arrested. Pitino wound up fired. Bowen is a pro, but not in the NBA, so no one is getting their money back off of that.

This was just one example of many though. And this was just one day of what is supposed to last a month. Nike does it. Under Armour does it. Virtually every agent and financial planner with NBA clients does it. You can’t have a top player without this swirling around. Dawkins and Code spoke of players like commodities to be bought, traded, sold and controlled.

Dawkins even printed up documents detailing how much they could make off good NBA players (a guy with a 4-year, $50 million contract is worth about $500,000 a year to an agency). And he detailed both what he claimed were actual payouts to players and proposed ones.

There was a supposed $5,000 payment to Alabama’s Collin Sexton, now of Cleveland Cavaliers, according to one document. Another said the plan for Sexton was $1,500 a month, September through April, $21,000 to his family for travel expenses and a job for an unnamed “brother” that would last four years and start at $35,000 with $5,000 raises each year.

It was one of a slew of such set-ups shown on documents. Everything from allegedly spending $5,000 on Floyd Mayweather tickets for Troy Brown, a Las Vegas native who played for Oregon and now the Washington Wizards, to providing Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson and now the San Antonio Spurs with $350.

It was all there, over and over, one more wiretap, one more spreadsheet, one more email proposing this or that. This isn’t trying to find someone who might know something to talk to Condi, this is hearing it all first-hand, in conversations and text messages no one thought would ever appear in a federal trial.

Mark Emmert can’t be bothered for this, apparently. It might allow him to see how the NCAA rule book is too far gone to be respected. It might allow him to see the concept of amateurism from the perspective of people it doesn’t make rich.

It might offer him something, anything, even if – against all common sense – it’s a recommitment to what the NCAA is doing.

At least he’d be trying.

College basketball is burning, right here for everyone to see and hear, and Mark Emmert can’t even be troubled to show up and fiddle in the back of the courthouse.

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