A federal ruling on Tuesday could help some major college basketball programs avoid trouble with the NCAA.
However, the decision of U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan to deny the NCAA access to evidence related to the criminal case of the three men found guilty of fraud in the Adidas pay-for-play scandal is unlikely to affect N.C. State with its ongoing NCAA issues.
Kaplan, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, denied a motion by the NCAA and the parent company of Yahoo! Sports for access to evidence collected during the investigation of former Adidas executive Jim Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins.
In the same federal court in October, Gatto, Code and Dawkins were found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection to paying recruits to attend schools (N.C. State, Kansas and Louisville) with multi-million dollar Adidas contracts.
The NCAA was seeking access to 24 proposed exhibits, including wiretap conversations, text messages and emails, which were not entered into evidence during the trial. Both the NCAA and the media company were seeking the unredacted sentencing memorandum of Gatto.
In March, Gatto received a nine-month prison sentence while Code and Dawkins received six months each for their part in the scheme. The case was initially launched by the Justice Department in a multiyear probe conducted by the FBI and trumpeted in Sept. 2017 as wide-ranging cleanup of the corruption in college basketball.
Some evidence remains sealed
The bulk of the information collected in wiretaps and sting operations — which would have constituted NCAA violations but did not break federal law — wasn’t entered as evidence during the trial and remains sealed.
In his 23-page ruling, Kaplan wrote: “... the NCAA does not have a proper basis to intervene because it is a private entity seeking access to further its own regulatory function rather than to vindicate any public’s right of access to the materials.”
The NCAA sent N.C. State a Notice of Allegations on July 9 and it included two major violations connected to an alleged $40,000 payment which involved Gatto, former assistant coach Orlando Early and former star Dennis Smith Jr. during the recruiting process.
T.J. Gassnola, a former Adidas grassroots consultant, testified during Gatto’s trial that he had asked Gatto for the money to help N.C. State secure Smith’s commitment. According to Gassnola’s testimony, Early was involved in the payment of Smith, which is a Level I NCAA violation.
NCAA rules changes
Early did not testify during the case and did not respond to the NCAA’s request for an interview during its investigative process. Gassnola’s testimony is included in the exhibits used by the NCAA in its case against N.C. State.
The NCAA changed its rules in 2018 to allow its investigators to use information from “a court of law” or “government agency.”
N.C. State was the first major program to receive a NOA in connection with the Adidas case and federal trials. It has until Oct. 7 to respond to the NCAA and it will schedule a meeting with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
Early and former head coach Mark Gottfried were the target of the most serious violations in the NOA and potentially face the harshest punishments from the NCAA. N.C. State was connected to two Level II, or minor, violations by the NCAA for how it handled its complimentary ticket distribution and a failure to monitor how the tickets were distributed.
Kaplan’s decision could potentially help LSU and Arizona, whose head coaches and programs were targeted during the FBI probe and were mentioned during the trials, but still have key parts of evidence sealed.
Kaplan ruled in favor of the privacy of “third-parties” who were not on trial and would not “have the opportunity to test the reliability of the information contained in these materials.”
“In other words,” Kaplan wrote. “The documents are of a sensitive nature, and the degree of potential injury is high.”