The first formal salvo has been fired by the NCAA in response to the federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. And the target is North Carolina State.
On Tuesday, NCAA enforcement delivered a notice of allegations that charges the NC State men’s basketball program and two former coaches with major violations. The school released the notice of allegations publicly Wednesday, after a meeting of the Board of Trustees. Two of the NCAA’s four allegations are Level I violations, the most severe charges at the enforcement staff’s disposal, and thus potentially subject to the most severe sanctions from the Committee on Infractions. The other two allegations are Level II violations.
In addition to being a problem for NC State, the charges specifically related to former coach Mark Gottfried — now the head coach at Cal State Northridge — could jeopardize his current standing at that school. Gottfried is charged with violating head coach responsibility legislation, specifically a failure to monitor his program and promote an atmosphere of compliance.
In broader terms, this also could signal an effort by the NCAA to pin responsibility on those who have proven to be the most evasive of targets in cheating scandals — the head coaches.
Former Wolfpack assistant Orlando Early, who was on Gottfried's staff, also was charged with a Level I violation.
The charges largely stem from the Wolfpack’s recruitment of star point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who played at the school in 2015-16 before becoming a top-10 pick in the NBA draft. As was detailed in the 2018 federal trial of Adidas executive Jim Gatto, consultant Merl Code Jr. and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins, Smith’s father allegedly was paid $40,000 through a middleman named Shawn Farmer by Early, who received the money from Adidas bag man T.J. Gassnola to secure the player’s commitment to the Wolfpack.
Gassnola pleaded guilty to wire fraud and agreed to testify for the federal government in its fraud case. Gassnola told the court he flew to North Carolina in 2015 and delivered the cash to Early at the coach’s request.
The NCAA alleges that Early "violated the principles of ethical conduct" by providing $46,700 in improper inducements to people close to Smith, most of that sum coming in the $40,000 payment from Adidas bag man Gassnola. In addition to the cash payment, Early is accused of providing 150 complimentary game tickets to Smith's personal trainer, Shawn Farmer, and family and friends of Smith. Early also provided impermissible parking.
A second allegation says that the NC State staff provided 14 complimentary game tickets to AAU coaches Stanley Bland and Keith Stevens in 2016. That is categorized as a Level II violation.
The third allegation addresses Gottfried, who is charged with failure to monitor Early and other staff members. The NCAA notes that Gottfried is "presumed responsible" for the violations committed when he was the head coach at the school.
Gottfried’s attorney, Scott Tompsett, issued a statement on the notice of allegations late Wednesday.
“Coach Gottfried has cooperated fully with the NCAA’s investigation and he will continue to cooperate. He is disappointed that allegations have been brought against his former program at NC State, and he takes these allegations very seriously.
“While we disagree with the enforcement staff’s position that Coach Gottfried did not adequately monitor certain aspects of his program, we are pleased that the NCAA agrees that he was not involved in any illicit payments.”
The news is certainly bad for NC State, but the best development of the day may have been that no significant new developments became public with the release of the notice of allegations.
“The bottom line on this is that there’s nothing new, nothing surprising,” said Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who is a veteran of NCAA cases.
“It’s what everyone expected with a few relatively minor ornaments added to the tree.”
The most ominous news may come to the officials at Northridge, which faces an uncomfortable few months with Gottfried under the NCAA microscope. If Gottfried is found responsible for a Level I head coach control violation, he could miss at least 30 to 50 percent of a season.
“Mark Gottfried should not be presumed by the committee or the public to be guilty of anything,” Brown said. “That said, a Level I head coach control violation carries the potential for substantial game suspensions as well as other penalties.”
North Carolina State received a grand jury subpoena in January 2018, asking for documents and information related to the Southern District of New York's investigation of college basketball. Documents viewed by Yahoo Sports in February 2018 indicated that Smith received $73,500 in loans prior to college from ASM Sports, the agency run by Andy Miller, where Dawkins worked. Miller had been disassociated by the school in 2012. Gottfried was hired at Northridge in March 2018, despite his former program being linked to the corruption scandal.
The NC State notice of allegations is the first of what could be at least a half dozen to come from the NCAA in fairly rapid succession, according to association vice president for regulatory affairs Stan Wilcox. He told CBS Sports last month that six schools could receive notices of allegations this summer, with the potential for more to come.
A Yahoo Sports analysis of the situation in the spring produced a list of 12 candidates for major investigations: North Carolina State, Kansas, Louisville, Auburn, Arizona, USC, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Clemson, Creighton, TCU and LSU. All of those schools were implicated in one form or fashion in the federal investigation of the sport, with coaches at eight of the 12 schools losing jobs.
NC State will be an interesting litmus test for schools that have turned over their athletic administration since the scandal. The school has a different coaching staff, having fired Gottfried in 2017. It also has a new athletic director, Boo Corrigan, and the implicated player has long since left for the NBA. But the current staff and roster, which essentially didn’t benefit from the alleged cheating, could still be vulnerable to penalties that impact them in real time. The eternal question of the fairness of punishing players and coaches who weren’t involved in the violations will inevitably be raised.
“NC State is committed to the highest levels of compliance, honesty and integrity,” said chancellor Randy Woodson. “As the university carefully reviews the NCAA’s allegations and thoroughly evaluates the evidence in order to determine our response, we are prepared to be accountable where we believe it is appropriate and to vigorously defend this great university and its Athletics program where we feel it is necessary.”
The standard timeline for completion of a major infractions case suggests that NC State would not have any NCAA-imposed sanctions before the completion of the 2019-20 basketball season. A school that receives a notice of allegations has 90 days to file a response, and the NCAA then would have another 60 days to respond to that response. At that point, a hearing would be scheduled some 30-60 days out, with a decision in another 60-90 days.
Given that timetable, a Committee on Infractions ruling likely wouldn’t be handed down before April or May 2020. Appeals could further delay resolution of the case.
However, the arrival of NC State’s notice of allegations, and its contents, ends any lingering doubts as to whether the NCAA is actively and aggressively pursuing schools implicated in the corruption scandal, which burst into the public eye in September 2017. The results of NCAA investigations that piggy-backed off FBI spadework are starting to come in, and there seems to be an appetite among the membership for a thorough cleansing of a dirty sport.
“For all the good in college basketball, we've had this cloud over our head for too long,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione told Yahoo Sports in May. “As I talk to people throughout the industry, this is our one opportunity to aggregate our resources and address those who have tried to cheat their way through the business. I understand there are many complexities, I understand it's going to require some time, but it's time to get this right.”
Notice of Allegations to NC State on Scribd
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