University of Kansas

Q&A with Jay Bilas on FBI's college basketball case: 'The problem is the NCAA’s rules'

Explaining the FBI college basketball case & allegations related to KU basketball

According to new charges filed April 10, 2018 against Adidas executive James Gatto, a mother and guardian of the two unnamed KU players are said to have benefited from illicit payments, which were made without knowledge of the university.
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According to new charges filed April 10, 2018 against Adidas executive James Gatto, a mother and guardian of the two unnamed KU players are said to have benefited from illicit payments, which were made without knowledge of the university.

Armed with a law degree, four Emmy nominations and knowledge of the basketball world gained by playing and coaching at Duke as well as playing overseas, Jay Bilas has emerged as one of the most powerful voices in college basketball.

In fact, the longtime ESPN analyst, according to his bio with the law firm of Moore & Van Allen, PLLC (where he has specialized in commercial litigation since 1992), has been deemed one of The Ten Most Powerful Voices in Sports Media by The Hollywood Reporter .

And so, Bilas was contacted by The Star and asked to provide his take on the FBI investigation into college basketball. It’s an investigation that a week ago revealed shoe company money allegedly exchanged hands to steer two players to Kansas.

Among other things, Bilas told The Star he can … “absolutely believe that coaches were not involved in those type of things.”

Also. …

  • “College sports is not amateur. It has not been for the last 100 years and it certainly isn’t now.”
  • “I know that hardly anybody was eligible when I played and hardly anybody is eligible now.”
  • “The problem is not the players and the problem is not the money. The problem is the NCAA’s rules.”

Here are some questions recently posed to Bilas and his answers.

Q: I wondered what you thought of the current KU involvement with the FBI (case):

JAY BILAS: I don’t know all the particulars but I didn’t see there was necessarily any involvement as much as it was sort of the standard claim of the government that Kansas could have been victimized by this type of thing. As you know, the government is saying that the schools are victims in this. … I think you would probably be pretty hard-pressed to find very many really good players that are strictly eligible by the letter of the NCAA’s law.

Somebody has taken extra benefits here or there (or) something has happened, because there’s no way that any school can be vigilant enough to vouch for the eligibility of every single player. It’s impossible, especially with what’s going on all over the country and how much money there is in the sport. It’s impossible.

How do you determine … like I read something recently from Josephine Potuto (constitutional law professor and Nebraska athletic department faculty representative). She has been involved in NCAA issues for a million years. She is really smart but said that if you are recruiting a top player you have to be extra vigilant. Well, what does that mean? How can you be extra vigilant? There’s basically nothing you can do. You have to rely upon sort of your best judgment. You wouldn’t recruit anyone if you had to worry about every little thing that happened before they got there (to campus).

Q: Do you see it as a possibility that Bill Self could not have known about the shoe companies trying to steer them (the two players cited in indictment against Adidas reps) to KU?

JAY BILAS: Well first I don’t know that that (steering players) happened, but if you assume that it did, I can absolutely believe that coaches were not involved in those type of things. At Miami it’s the same type of deal. Heck the government has already dropped one guy out that claimed to be passing money onto a kid that kept the money for himself. So who knows what is being said. You don’t know. I think like anything else, it needs to be proven. … To my understanding there is no allegation that anyone at Kansas had any knowledge.

Q: Is it true that none of this would even be a crime or anything if the players were able to be paid? If shoe companies could just sign these guys (during their college careers)?

JAY BILAS: That’s right. … The theory of the government here is that these are federally funded institutions and by virtue of NCAA rules being broken, the schools are the victims in that they lose the ability to give out their scholarships to eligible players and they could be subject to monetary penalties to postseason bans which cost them money, stuff like that.

Really what the government is saying here is like if a bank defrauds its customers the bank is the victim because they could be hit with SEC penalties. You are going, “Really? They are the beneficiaries. They make all this money by defrauding their customers but if they get caught they are the victim?”

That is kind of what is happening here. Not to be simplistic about this, but name any player (as example) — Brady Morningstar. So if a shoe company came to Brady Morningstar (when he was in high school) and said, “Hey we would like to pay you not to go to college and to go directly into the pros,” that’s perfectly legal. But if they were paying him to go to school that would violate NCAA rules therefore he would be violating their amateurism rules and he would be ineligible. The government is saying, “That’s a federal crime.”

You could pay a tennis player to leave school and go play tennis. You could pay Jordan Spieth to leave Texas and go play professional golf, but if you pay a player and they remain in school then it could be a federal crime.

So if the NCAA said tomorrow, “There are no more amateurism rules. Players could take money and still have their eligibility and it’s no longer an NCAA violation to take money from a third party,” these are no longer federal crimes.

So in order for these not to be federal crimes, federal law does not have to change. Only NCAA rules have to change. For all these years … none of these activities have ever been prosecuted as federal crimes. So you are kind of asking yourself, what was the government doing for all these years? This has been going on for over 100 years. So what was the government doing? Turning a blind eye to all this stuff? Now it’s a big deal? And so this is happening only in basketball, huh? Not in football? And this is essentially just one agent. So what, that agent was bidding against himself? And it’s only one shoe company. That doesn’t even go to what a booster may give to a kid and all these different things where money is being funneled through AAU programs. You wouldn’t be able to recruit a player if you had to determine, “Did they take anything from an AAU program?”

Q: You wouldn’t?

JAY BILAS: I mean if you are going to be sort of charged with what a player may have taken while he or she was in high school, how are you going to police that? Because they sign declarations and make representations as to their eligibility when they get to college. Are you going to assume that everybody is lying to you? Or do you have to hire your own investigators? That’s why when Jo Potuto says you need increased scrutiny, they call it a higher level of scrutiny. What the hell does that mean?

Reasonably, what does that mean you have to do? Do you have to hire private investigators to follow the players around? Do you have to have forensic accountants go through their families’ balance sheet and look at their bank accounts and all their deposits? That’s unreasonable. They are not hiring government employees here to work for the national security agency. These are players going to college. And they are going to college to earn the school billions of dollars and to play for coaches making millions of dollars and we’re to expect that there has not been any money changing hands with regards to the players. Of course it has.

This may be a little bit of a tangent, but we are worried about … all this stuff is at a crisis level in basketball simply because of the involvement of the federal government.

A lot of this doesn’t make sense. We are like the movie ‘Casablanca’ or something: “Oh my God you mean there’s gambling here?” The NCAA acts like it just woke up and opened the door to go get the paper and there were billions of dollars out there in the front yard.

Like all these decisions they made intentionally and purposefully to build this up into a multi-billion dollar business. It’s bigger than the NFL and it’s bigger than the NBA. College basketball makes more money than the NBA. Their coaches make more than NBA coaches. And they (NCAA officials) think that ‘no no we have’ … because they are basically saying, “It’s OK when we take the money. But if anybody else is dealing with these players, their motives are impure. Our motives are pure. Everybody else is out for greed and themselves and it’s disgusting. It’s disgusting that other people are participating in a black market that we created by our own rules.”

The NCAA will not acknowledge that they created this marketplace. They created it. They are acting like they are surprised by it. The truth is that everybody involved has known this has been going on. You didn’t always know who. You didn’t always know how much. You couldn’t pinpoint all the dollars. But you knew the money was changing hands and to pretend they didn’t know, it’s a lie.

Q: What stories do you want to see (as a result of the investigation)?

JAY BILAS: … Covering what Condoleezza Rice’s commission is going to recommend because they are not examining the amateurism piece in that, which I think is a mistake.

They are not looking at name and likeness rights for the players from what I’m told. I don’t know this for a fact. I know they are not looking at pay for play. So if they are not examining what the NCAA refers to as the collegiate model and whether it’s the right way to go … How can they determine it’s right if they don’t examine it?

It kind of strikes you as how can the NCAA say, “Oh these shoe companies are so, so evil and this is such a bad practice?” They are in bed with the shoe companies and they jumped in bed with them willingly. They are taking millions upon millions of dollars from these shoe companies and they look upon them as partners and the money is going up.”

Kansas coach Bill Self reacted to new charges filed April 10, 2018 against Adidas executive James Gatto, who is alleged to have conspired to pay the mother and to a guardian of two unnamed KU basketball players without the university's knowledge.

Q: (following up on previous question)

JAY BILAS: … I read (one) article the other day, the one that was using unnamed sources on people like balking at Kansas using the term ‘victim.’ That’s not Kansas’ term. That’s what the government claims. That’s what the the government says. They (KU officials) didn’t pull that out of thin air. The United States government says they are a victim, That is their theory. I don’t understand why people won’t go on the record. What’s so horrible about it? If you’ve got the opinion that Kansas, they’re not victims, then why wouldn’t you stand behind that? I didn’t understand that one. To me that’s like an issue of petty jealousy. It’s like claiming UCLA wouldn’t have won all those championships if not for Sam Gilbert. The hell they wouldn’t have. They would have won them anyway.

Q: Do you want to say anything about Bill (Self) about or his integrity or …?

JAY BILAS: Yeah, I would. I’ve known Bill Self for geez, for almost 20 years now. And I know him to be of the highest integrity. So I don’t believe that he would actively participate in the violation of NCAA rules any more than I would believe Coach K or John Beilein would do that.

I don’t believe that. I believe I understand how the business works. I played. I am not naive. I know that hardly anybody was eligible when I played and hardly anybody is eligible now. But that doesn’t mean that players are bad guys or there is anything sinister going on. It’s normal human behavior in the marketplace. The problem is not the players and the problem is not the money. The problem is the NCAA’s rules. I am a rules guy. I believe in rules. I think rules should be followed. But these rules are not right. The stance the NCAA takes with regard to its rules is not right given the business that they’re in.

They are generating billions of dollars and pretending like they are running a member/guest tournament. And they’re not. There’s nothing amateur in America any more except for golf. College sports is not amateur. It has not been for the last 100 years and it certainly isn’t now. When you’ve got coaches making millions of dollars and, you know what’s interesting? In all this stuff … so all of these federal charges and all of this hand-wringing, not one game was postponed, canceled or not one check was delayed. They played every game exactly at the appointed time. Whenever there was an eligibility issue, they resolved the eligibility issue over the weekend. You remember that weekend when all this news came out? Worried about who ate with this agent? Where did the parents eat? Who paid for this? Usually those things take a long time to resolve. They resolved everything over the weekend and everybody played except one kid. Eric Davis at Texas was the only one who didn’t play. Everybody else played. So the guy who is nowhere near the best player didn’t play but everybody else played. So he’s the guy something was wrong with. Tell me if that makes any sense. That makes zero sense.

Q: Do you know any of the alleged participants?

JAY BILAS: I don’t. I met (Jim Gatto) and met T.J. Gassnola. I’ve never been an Adidas guy. So I don’t know those guys personally. I’ve met them. I knew Merl Code when he was with Nike. I met him there when I used to work Nike’s basketball camps. Once he left Nike I didn’t have any contact with him when he went to Adidas. I don’t really know him particularly well either. I know some of the coaches we’re dealing with here. I don’t know these guys particularly well.

I would absolutely be interested in how the shoe game works. I’ve always found it really interesting — the involvement. The shoe companies are not out to break NCAA rules. In fact they bend over backwards to work with the NCAA to make sure they are not breaking the rules The problem is … the NCAA is so worried about the ridiculous rules. I’ll give you an example. … I was at the Under Armour All America camp last summer. There was an NCAA rep there and a couple of things that stood out to me. The NCAA was worried about whether the counselor games … there were college players that were there that are termed counselors. They are not really counselors. They go there to work out.

It’s been this fiction the NCAA created, well, call ‘em counselors. That way it’ll make it look like they are not just there to work out, that they are working the camp. The players come there to work out. They are usually from schools that wear that brand of shoe, not always. Usually. They have workouts and then they play in games. Well the NCAA did not want the games to keep score. I was like, “Why not?” They said, “Well because then it gives the appearance of outside competition.” I’m like, “What do you mean it gives the appearance of that? You are standing right here watching it. You know what it is.”

The players were wearing uniforms. They had coaches and were playing in front of a crowd at this All-America camp. But the NCAA wouldn’t allow them to use the scoreboard. They kept time at the scorer’s table and they would call the time out and they’d call the score out from the scorer’s table.

It was all this fictional thing about well we don’t want anybody thinking this is outside competition. Well who wouldn’t think that? If they are here they can see what it is. If they are not here why would it matter whether there was a scoreboard up or not? If they are calling the score out they are still keeping score. Why are we doing all this?

The NCAA rep wasn’t there trying to determine what people of influence are here but they are worried about these dumb rules. Like don’t allow anybody to walk here. We can’t use this sign-in sheet or whatever the hell they were worried about. And you are kind of wondering what the heck are we doing? Who cares if the players are called counselors? They made them run the scorer’s table for one game each while the high school players were playing. That satisfied their requirement of being counselors. It doesn’t matter if you make them do that. They are not counselors. They’re players. They are here to play.

The shoe companies … they are trying to promote the game and have their products highlighted so they can sell products to younger people. They want all these young players to buy their shoes and buy their apparel. It’s a business strategy. It helps them build relationships and the like. It’s not so much trying to get players like to get the next LeBron (James) or something like that. That winds up going to the company that makes the best offer. LeBron was an Adidas kid until he came out of high school then Nike signed him. That happens all the time.

Q: What will come of all this?

JAY BILAS: I think what they are going to do is they are going to change the recruiting model and try to take this, like Condoleezza Rice’s commission. I’ve heard a lot about going back to scholastic recruiting which means recruiting out of the high school. Taking the colleges out of the summer — college recruiting. That would theoretically take power away from a lot of these AAU coaches where they don’t have any influence, put it back in the hands of the high school coaches. What do they think the shoe companies are going to do? They are going to go and pay the high schools. It will just shift the business to another area. Then the smaller schools aren’t going to be able to afford to recruit the same way the big schools can. The big schools can send their people and run them out and babysit kids in high school and take them out of supervising the players they have on campus and put them back into high schools and the smaller schools … they will have a harder time identifying players.

They (smaller schools with current model of scouting AAU tournaments in spring and summer) can see more players now. Players that aren’t as identified early have a chance to get a scholarship. Maybe they wouldn’t have caught the eye of somebody otherwise if they weren’t available to be seen in the summer.

There will be lot of negative consequences that come from it (returning to high school recruiting only) but it will make the schools feel better. Then all the power will shift back to the high schools and then we’ll complain about how powerful the high schools have gotten. Because what people forget is years ago everybody complained about the high schools and how powerful the high schools were and how they could manipulate grades and high school coaches had deals with coaches. It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other; which devil do you want to deal with because somebody will have power and influence over these players and somebody will be using them to benefit themselves. The NCAA is basically saying, “Nobody gets to exploit the players until we’re done doing it.” That’s what they are about. It’s great. They treat the kids well and they are all nice people but that’s really what they are saying: “Nobody gets to exploit them until we’re done. Then you can have them. We get to exploit them first, nobody else, then when we’re done with em you can have whatever you want.”

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