Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team won’t be eligible for the 2021 NCAA tournament. Is the Cowboys’ penalty a sign of things to come for other schools enveloped in the federal college basketball corruption trial?
The NCAA announced Friday that OSU had received a postseason ban for the 2020-21 season, three years of probation, scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions. The penalties came after the Cowboys were one of the teams named during the federal investigation into college basketball. They’re also the first penalties handed out to any team named in the probe.
Oklahoma State received its notice of allegations from the NCAA in November. Former associate head coach Lamont Evans had admitted to accepting approximately $22,000 in bribes to direct players to his previous employer South Carolina and then to Oklahoma State. Evans worked at South Carolina until 2016 before he moved to Oklahoma State. He was fired by OSU in September of 2017 after he was arrested in the federal investigation.
“The conduct at issue in this case was related to a broader scheme that involved money and influence at the intersection of college and professional basketball,” a statement from the NCAA’s committee on infractions said. “The scheme resulted in the arrest and prosecution of multiple individuals — including college basketball coaches — on conspiracy and bribery charges, and it led to significant NCAA reforms.”
Oklahoma State countered the NCAA with a statement Friday afternoon that said it would immediately appeal the ban and that it had cooperated with the NCAA’s investigation.
“The university is stunned by the severity of the penalties and strongly disagrees with them,” the statement said. “The penalties do not align with the facts and are unfair and unjust.”
“The NCAA agreed with OSU that Lamont Evans acted alone and for his own personal gain. Evans was terminated by OSU on Sept. 28, 2017, within 72 hours of learning of the allegations against him.”
“The NCAA also agreed that OSU did not benefit in recruiting, commit a recruiting violaton, did not play an ineligible player, and did not display a lack of institutional control.”
Oklahoma State's statement on the NCAA findings. pic.twitter.com/fa52sB41BP
— OSU Cowboy Basketball (@OSUMBB) June 5, 2020
Evans admitted that he accepted the bribes in federal court and was sentenced to three months in federal prison in June. The federal investigations and trials gave the NCAA and its investigators a massive head start on gathering information to allege wrongdoing and levy punishments.
The NCAA also said that Evans had received a 10-year show-cause penalty.
“Coaches are entrusted to look after the well-being and best interests of their student-athletes, including during the critical time when student-athletes are making decisions regarding their professional careers,” the committee said. “As the associate head coach admitted in his sentencing hearing, he abused this trust for his own personal gain. He sold access to student-athletes and used his position as a coach and mentor to steer them toward a career decision — retaining the financial advisors’ services — that would financially benefit him. In short, he put his interests ahead of theirs.”
Oklahoma State had no juniors on its roster in 2019-20, meaning no players on its 2020-21 roster were on the team when Evans was on staff.
OSU secured top recruit in 2020 class
While Oklahoma State will appeal the ban, the penalty means the Cowboys will likely be facing the prospect of no postseason play despite having the top point guard in the country.
Cade Cunningham, a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player in the country, according to Rivals, committed to the Cowboys in November. His commitment came after coach Mike Boynton hired Cunningham’s brother, Cannen, as an assistant coach. The 2019-20 season was Cannen Cunningham’s first year on staff after he was a video coordinator at Tulane.
There’s no guarantee that Cade Cunningham will stay with the Cowboys either. Boynton said that the team would help him explore all his options. Cunningham was entering college as a likely one-and-done player with plans to declare for the 2021 NBA draft.
Mike Boynton on Cade Cunningham: “We're going to have conversations. ... We’re gonna try to look at all the options, whatever they are: G-League, overseas, transfer to another school, stay at Oklahoma State. … Whatever he decides is best for his future, I’m gonna support 100%.”
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) June 5, 2020
Kansas got NOA in September
Other schools ensnared in the NCAA’s investigations following the federal corruption probe are also awaiting their penalties. In September, Kansas received a notice of allegations from the NCAA detailing multiple Level I allegations against Bill Self and the basketball program. Kansas has been vehement in its own defense and fought the allegations, though the Jayhawks are unlikely to escape the NCAA’s investigation unscathed. Oklahoma State just got a postseason ban for one Level I allegation.
One of the charges against Kansas among its five Level I violations is a head coach responsibility charge against Self. The Jayhawks were the most high-profile team involved in the FBI’s probe as it dove into the recruitments of Silvio De Sousa and Billy Preston after an Adidas consultant had funneled money to secure their commitments.
N.C. State received a notice of allegations in July regarding its recruitment of current NBA player Dennis Smith Jr.
Other teams involved in the probe are Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, LSU and USC. LSU coach Will Wade was suspended for a month during the 2018-19 season after it was revealed he was heard on a wiretapped call discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit with an aspiring agent.
If Oklahoma State’s penalty is any indication, the NCAA isn’t going to be lenient with anyone.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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