DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Last year, the NCAA college basketball tournament known as March Madness was seen by 97 million TV viewers.
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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: Six. Newton. Long two. And he sticks it.
DAVIES: Our guest, writer Michael Sokolove, says the money and recognition the sport generates has led to a host of corrupt practices in the recruitment of players for the top college basketball programs. Talented athletes as young as 12 are targeted for manipulation by street agents Sokolove describes as dealers in human athletic flesh. Many of those corrupt practices were exposed in an FBI investigation which led to a sprawling indictment that rocked the basketball world last year.
In the first of three trials in the case, a federal jury yesterday convicted three men of conspiring to use cash payments to recruit players to college basketball programs, including the University of Louisville. Its legendary Coach Rick Pitino wasn’t charged, but the scandal cost him his job. He’s one of the subjects of Sokolove’s new book, “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino: A Story Of Corruption, Scandal, And The Big Business Of College Basketball.” I spoke to Sokolove yesterday, when the jury in the case was still deliberating.
Well, Mike Sokolove, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, any enterprise that generates large sums of money can be beset by corruption. How much money does college basketball generate?
MICHAEL SOKOLOVE: Well, billions. I mean, it really depends on how you calculate it, but directly to the universities and to the NCAA, billions. But if you figure in the gambling money, and money that’s generated by recruiting sites and all these crazy ways, you know, you’re getting into the four, or five or $6 billion a year.
DAVIES: Right. And where does the money go?
SOKOLOVE: The money largely goes to the adults who run the games. Very little of it goes to the players. The players get the value of their scholarships. So if you look at a program like Louisville, which is a program that I focused on, they generate about $45 million a year in revenue. They give out 13 scholarships. That adds up to about $400,000 a year. The rest of it gets spread out to the coach, who makes $8 million a year, to the assistant coaches, who make as much as a half-million dollars a year. All throughout out the athletic department, people are making six-figure salaries. It does not go to the players, what I call the unpaid workforce.
DAVIES: How big is the NCAA championship tournament, March Madness?
SOKOLOVE: Just about a billion dollars a year goes to the NCAA itself, which is the nonprofit organization that runs big-time college sports. But the money that that tournament throws off in all kinds of different directions is where you get into the $2 billion or $3 billion. It’s the kind of money that pro franchises are making or generating. The difference is that they are actually paying their players.
DAVIES: You write about the University of Louisville, which you say was kind of a quiet commuter school until a new athletic director, a guy named Tom Jurich, came in and had big ambitions, and invested in big-time coaches, and new facilities, stadiums and basketball arenas and made a ton of revenue from it. Did it have benefits for the rest of the school?
SOKOLOVE: It depends on what you think a university is or should be. You know, Tom Jurich was, in his own way, a genius. He was a failed NFL place kicker who played all of one game and missed all three of his place kicks. That was it for his NFL career.
SOKOLOVE: And he went to Northern Arizona, became an athletic director, and then Colorado State and became an athletic director, and then came to Louisville, and everybody in the business said, whatever you do, Tom, don’t take that job. You can’t succeed. It’s this commuter college. It’s a mess. They’ve got no money. Nobody wants to go there. And he said, I can do this.
He went to Louisville, and he raised $300 million for all these new facilities. He got the city of Louisville to build him an NBA-style arena, and these sports teams became ultra successful. And not just the big-time basketball and football teams. The whole program became wildly successful. And at Louisville, they started to call sports the front porch of the university.
DAVIES: Now, one of the parts of this story is the relationship between shoe and apparel companies and big-time college basketball programs. What’s the relationship?
SOKOLOVE: Adidas, Nike and Under Armour shoe and apparel companies, they fund the grassroots basketball circuit. That’s the circuit in which these players come from, the web of youth teams. They fund all of that. And then they pour a lot of money into the college programs themselves. You know, $160 million, $200 million over a 10-year period. And that is in return for the players on the teams wearing their gear. So if it’s a Nike school – and this is what they’re called. You’re either a Nike school, an Under Armour school or an Adidas school.
So let’s say you are a Nike school, and your basketball team is in the NCAA tournament. Well, you’ve got the Nike swoosh on your sneakers. It’s on your trunks. It’s on your jersey. If you wear wristbands, it’s on your wristbands. If you wear a headband, it’s on your headband. So what they get in return for this money is the right to turn players who are ostensibly amateurs into human billboards.
DAVIES: Right. And the contracts are very detailed, right? The players have to wear only their gear. And they give the university bonuses if they do well? The shoe companies do?
SOKOLOVE: Well, if the teams do well, if you’re a Nike school and you reach the Final Four, or if you win the national championship, your coach is sure to get a $100,000 or a $200,000 bonus on top of his multimillion-dollar salary. The assistant coaches are probably going to get a bonus. The school may get more money. The only ones who don’t benefit monetarily are the players.
DAVIES: But does that bonus come from the shoe company, or no? I mean, they…
SOKOLOVE: It comes from the shoe company, yes. It comes directly from the shoe company. And these are really not big sums of money for the shoe companies. You know, Nike is a multibillion-dollar global company. So is Adidas. Under Armour, a little less so. But these are huge businesses. And the money that seems to us perhaps so big is not that big for them. And it also means they don’t really have to advertise like they used to.
I mean, if you’ve got 10 players on the court and they’re all running around in your insignias, why bother to advertise? You know, these are human action figures wearing your stuff for tens of millions of Americans to watch, and it makes advertising really redundant at that point. And it’s a much cheaper way to do it.
DAVIES: Big-time college basketball programs obviously want the best players so they’re scouting in competition, in recruiting them. And I think most of us would figure this would focus on high school players – you know, juniors or seniors who’ve proved that they have the chops, and they visit their families, they do whatever to try and get them interested in their program. I learned from your book this starts much, much earlier. How young are players when they start getting attention?
SOKOLOVE: Fifth or sixth grade. Players are as young as 10 or 11 years old when the basketball cognoscenti, the scouts, start looking at them and saying, are you a future college prospect? Are you a future NBA prospect? And there are several reasons for this. One of them is the size of players who make it to big-time college basketball and the NBA. You know, they’re somewhere between 6-foot-3 and 7 feet and up. So that really narrows the population.
So if you are looking at a young kid, you’re going to mostly look at a kid who’s already big and already athletic. And for that reason and some other reasons, it is relatively easier in basketball to look at a sixth or seventh-grader and correctly say, this kid’s going to be at least a college player. So it becomes worth it for these scouts to then prowl the sidelines of fifth and sixth-grade basketball tournaments.
DAVIES: Are there national publications or online sites that actually rate these players that have a lot of readers?
SOKOLOVE: Yes. There are publications and scouting services that look at kids as young as fifth grade. One of them is called Hoop Scoop. It’s run by a man named Clark Francis, who I encountered several years ago. And, you know, there were elements of Clark, when you meet him, that you may not take him seriously. He’s a guy, you know, spends his life looking at little basketball players. The funny thing about him is if you go back and look at his tout sheets from five or six years ago, and you look at the fifth and sixth-graders who he rated the highest, lot of them are in big-time college basketball now or in the pros.
So he’s certainly not right all the time, but he’s not bad at picking out the best players. So what Clark Francis does, whether you take him seriously or not, is he lays down a foundation for people who then scout high school and middle school players. And he sort of sets the sort of number of players who may be looked at. And the recruiting services are another business, another way that young grassroots or high school players generate income for other people.
DAVIES: Now, they’re not just watching these kids in school gyms, right? There is something called the grassroots basketball network. Explain who runs that, how it works.
SOKOLOVE: The main recruiting grounds, which I’ve also heard described as a hunting grounds, is no longer high school basketball. You know, a high school game features maybe one star, the kid maybe 6’6″ and he’s playing against a 5’10” kid. So what the shoe companies created was the grassroots basketball circuit. And that puts all the best players against each other in these pressurized situations. That’s where the college coaches go to scout.
And the person who created this was Sonny Vaccaro, sometimes called the godfather of grassroots basketball. And Sonny was a brilliant salesman and a brilliant sort of hustler in his own way. So he realized two things. One was that to put all the best players together was going to create a better recruiting situation. But he also realized that big-time college coaches really don’t want to go to small town after small town and scout players. They like to go to Las Vegas and stay in five-star hotels or go to Chicago or Orlando and stay in five-star hotels and watch a bunch of the best players. So Sunny not only put the best players together, but he created a situation that coaches loved.
DAVIES: Right. So you have these tournaments that occur in Chicago or Orlando or Las Vegas where the best players come. And these prospects, these kids, their families take them. And we’re talking about middle school kids in a lot of cases, right? And there are these people who are not agents, but you might call them runners, street agents who sort of specialize in building relationships. You describe a tournament in Las Vegas, I think, in July. You want to just kind of paint that picture for us.
SOKOLOVE: Las Vegas hosts some of the biggest grassroots tournaments. So in July, you will have a couple of hundred teams, all age groups, and a thousand or more players, a couple of hundred college coaches. And they’re playing in gyms all over Las Vegas. Some of them are staying on the strip. And they are being scouted not only by coaches – not only by college coaches but also by these characters who exist on the fringes.
I think of it almost like boxing back in the day, these sort of Damon Runyon-esque characters who are there to sort of see what’s in it for them. And on the one hand, they’re – can be seen as colorful. But also just like boxing back in the day, they’re exploitive. They are dealers in human athletic flesh. And they are trying to get their hooks into kids and get their hooks into families and get into their inner circles and then to see, what’s in it for me? Can I deal this kid to a particular college? Can I associate him with a particular NBA agent? And this is very much the scene on the grassroots circuit. It’s known, and it’s part of the background.
DAVIES: Are there kids who, when they’re, you know, 12, 13, 14, kind of become celebrities, kind of think of themselves as in a business?
SOKOLOVE: Absolutely. There are kids who, you know, this is their life. And one of the things that really struck me when I have been around grassroots basketball is the kids who refer to themselves as being in the business of basketball because that’s how it feels to them. They may be 12 or 13 years old, but they’re in the business of basketball.
DAVIES: Michael Sokolove’s book is “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino: A Story Of Corruption, Scandal And The Big Business Of College Basketball.” We’ll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with journalist Michael Sokolove. He has a new book about corruption in recruitment in college basketball. It’s called “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino.”
So in a lot of cases, families will move their promising, young basketball player to a different city for a high school that’s known for being competitive. So it becomes kind of the family’s lives, too. You write that on the college end of this, it’s the assistant coaches who are really involved in recruiting. Explain what they do, how they’re paid.
SOKOLOVE: The assistant college coaches are the sort of ones who first make contact with a young player and his family. They fly all over the country. And there’s a lot of pressure on assistant coaches. It used to be an assistant college coach was a coach first. He taught the game. He mentored the young men. A lot of them now, if not most of them, are recruiters first. And they are charged with bringing the head coach the best players. It’s sometimes said in college basketball that you win in July. And that means you win games by getting the best players from the tournaments – the grassroots tournaments in July in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
But the assistant coaches, that’s their job. Get me kids. The thinking in the industry and among journalists and many who follow this world is that many of the head coaches say, just get me players. Don’t tell me how you did it. Just bring them to me. There are things I don’t want to know. These assistant coaches jobs are very well-paid. They’re hard to get. They’re hard to keep. They’re hard to get back in the business if you lose the job. The temptation to cheat is extreme.
DAVIES: Right. So you have these kids that are kind of showing their stuff in this amateur basketball kind of network, and these street runners sort of pre-agents that build relationships and hope to steer them to universities, assistant coaches who want to make connections there. And the federal government has charged in this case that we’re seeing money flowing among these parties to help to lure kids to universities. There’s another really creepy part of this story, which took me a while to get, which is the street runners not just using, you know, incentives to get kids to colleges, but then in some cases, paying the assistant college coaches to steer their players who are already in college to a certain financial adviser that the street runner has a relationship with. What’s going on there?
SOKOLOVE: Well, that’s exactly right. And I think that’s the most insidious part of this. So in the federal government’s case, there have been several assistant coaches charged with taking bribes from these runners or go-betweens on the grassroots circuit. And the intent of the bribe is to say, OK, you already have this player. He’s headed to the pros. Send him to me. I want to manage his money when he becomes a pro. You know, put him in my lap.
DAVIES: All right. So if you’re a financial adviser and this is what you do, and you manage to, in some way or another, get an NBA player as your client, what’s it worth to you?
SOKOLOVE: An NBA player, over the course of a 10-year career, can easily make a hundred-million dollars or more. So if you are an agent and get 2 percent or 3 percent of that salary, that adds up to a lot. If you have five or 10 of those players, that adds up to a whole lot. If you’re, quote, “managing the money” of one of these players, I don’t know what that might add up to. If you’re doing it legitimately, you’re getting what a money manager might make. There’s a lot. You’re dealing in tens of millions of dollars.
If I were a future NBA player or I were the family of a future NBA player, I don’t think that I would necessarily send my kid to somebody who specializes in managing the money of sports stars. But there is an ecosystem of people who serve professional athletes, manage their money. If you get traded, there are specialists who will set you up in a new city. They will go to private schools and figure out what private school your child should go to. They will find you a designer for your new house, an interior designer.
So sports is a very insular business, and a lot of the players want to deal with known quantities. And part of this is, there’s the money manager. He manages NBA players’ money. So the game is to become one of those guys, and then to have one of these go-betweens set you up with players.
DAVIES: Michael Sokolove’s new book is, “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino: A Story Of Corruption, Scandal, And The Big Business Of College Basketball.” After a break, he’ll talk about some earlier scandals involving Pitino and whether college basketball players should be paid. Also Justin Chang reviews the new fantasy thriller, “Suspiria.” I’m Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. We’re speaking with writer Michael Sokolove, whose new book focuses on the allegedly corrupt practices in college basketball recruiting, exposed in a federal indictment last year. In the first of three trials, a federal jury yesterday convicted three men of conspiring to steer cash payments to get coveted athletes into top basketball programs. I spoke to Sokolove yesterday, while the jury was still deliberating its verdict.
It was about a year ago that federal authorities announced this sprawling indictment. What was it about? What did they allege?
SOKOLOVE: They alleged that players on the grassroots or youth basketball circuit were being basically bribed to attend certain colleges. The money, in many of the cases, was to come from the shoe company that sponsored the college team they were going to. And in this case, Adidas. Although, there was evidence in the trial that strongly indicated that Nike and Under Armour are engaged in the same kind of activity.
So in the three cases that will be tried, there are four assistant coaches at major programs charged, and there are several other figures on the grassroots circuit sort of sometimes called street runners, or go-betweens or consultants for the shoe companies. They have also been charged. And the question in each of these cases is, were there federal crimes committed? Or were there just violations of the NCAA’s amateurism rules, which are not federal crimes?
DAVIES: Right. So it seems clear from the evidence that there were relationships which seemed to violate recruiting rules and that money changed hands, right?
SOKOLOVE: Absolutely. There’s no doubt that money changed hands – by the way, relatively small amounts of money in the grand scheme of what these apparel companies generate and – and make in profit.
DAVIES: This young man named Brian Bowen Jr., who went by the nickname Tugs, was a much sought-after recruit, ultimately signed with the University of Louisville, which was coached by Rick Pitino. This is before the indictments. And the events leading to his signing are among those involved in the criminal case. What kind of money went to his family and from whom?
SOKOLOVE: One hundred thousand dollars was promised to Brian Bowen Jr.’s father. That would be Brian Bowen Sr. Of that $100,000, only $19,500 was ever delivered. The money was to have come from Adidas. That $19,500 is one-quarter of 1 percent of the nearly $8 million annual salary that then-coach Rick Pitino was making. So that to me is a pretty stark reminder of the inequity of this whole youth basketball scene.
DAVIES: And there was evidence that that wasn’t the first time that Brian Bowen’s dad had taken money based on his son’s athletic ability.
SOKOLOVE: It was clearly not the first time that Brian Bowen Sr. had taken money. He testified in court under immunity from prosecution that he had taken money repeatedly for – in return for his son playing for particular youth teams or a particular private high school in Indiana. And there was a moment in court where the defense attorney of Christian Dawkins, the runner, the street agent, said to Brian Bowen Sr. on cross-examination, so you’ve been pimping out your namesake since he was 14 years old. And Brian Bowen Sr. only quibbled about the age. He paused for a second. And then he said, well, maybe 15 or 16 years old.
DAVIES: Right. And is there any evidence that Brian Bowen, the kid himself, knew about this or saw any of the money?
SOKOLOVE: Brian Bowen Jr. had told the FBI – and he told me when I interviewed him, and he has told everyone – he did not know that money was exchanged, that money was received by his father. There’s been no evidence that he did know. He went from the University of Louisville to the University of South Carolina. He transferred last year. The fact that the University of South Carolina took him in is an indication that they certainly believed that he had no knowledge of this. But the NCAA still said, you can’t play basketball last year and then ruled that he could not play college basketball this year.
And Brian Bowen Jr. has gone off to play professionally in Australia and is over there now in Sydney and has become one of a thousand overseas players trying to attract the attention of NBA scouts. He missed out on what is by far the easier route, which is to play in college, to be on TV, to be known and just take that glide path right into the NBA.
DAVIES: So Rick Pitino’s the coach who’s on the cover of the book. The book is kind of about this system of corruption in recruitment. But Pitino is a fascinating character. You say it’s not hard to make the case he’s the best college basketball coach of his generation, a tactical and motivational genius. And to give us a sense, an example of what he does that’s special?
SOKOLOVE: Rick Pitino won two national championships, one at Kentucky, one at Louisville. He also coached the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, two of the marquee franchises in professional basketball. In college basketball, and particularly at Louisville, he did something that’s almost never done. He won without the best players. Most Final Four teams, most national champions, are stocked with first-round draft picks, high first-round draft picks of the NBA, which are called lottery picks. Rick Pitino won without those guys. He coached good players, not great players. He got them to play merciless defense. They played so intensely. He was a motivational and a tactical genius.
And you know, by the way, I loved watching him coach. You know, he would stand on the sideline in an athletic position with his knees bent and, you know, his head peering out over the court, often one foot on the court and his hands behind him. And I always got the feeling that he put his hands behind him because he was so intense that if they weren’t there, he would reach out and grab the ball as it came by. But he was just this amazing coach. And in some ways, you know, for him to be caught up in this is, A, predictable and, B, tragic.
DAVIES: Now, he lost his job. He was not charged in the criminal case, but Louisville was tainted. And he was given his walking papers after the indictment came out. But you’re right that this was not his first brush with scandal. What were some of the others?
SOKOLOVE: More than a decade ago, Rick Pitino had a sexual assignation in a closed restaurant with a woman who then tried to extort him. And she was sent off to prison. But he was the star prosecution witness who had to then recount in court this incident with a woman he’d just met in a banquette, and everybody had left the restaurant. It was terribly embarrassing. And I would say after that, Pitino was just a basketball coach, which of course he always was. But I don’t think he could be seen as a – necessarily a mentor to young men.
The second incident was, in many ways, more serious. In Louisville, it became known as Strippergate. And what Strippergate was was four years of parties in the basketball dorm not very far from Pitino’s office, sponsored by a local escort and paid for by a member of Pitino’s staff. And women danced, and there were sexual favors for recruits and for current players. And in the – in the NCAA’s lexicon, its strange lexicon, this was ruled to be impermissible benefits to amateur players. And Louisville actually lost its 2013 national title over Strippergate. So that was sort of an – that was sort of strike one, strike two. And this recruiting scandal – and Pitino was not charged. But it involved staff members. It involved a recruit. It involved Louisville. Louisville was a central thread in the FBI and Justice Department case.
DAVIES: And in the Strippergate case, we’re talking about high school recruits coming to Louisville, coming to a dorm where there were sexual things going on. What did Pitino say about it?
SOKOLOVE: Rick Pitino, who’s written a couple of leadership books but is not really a model of leader that most people would recognize, employs a sort of circular logic when things go wrong. And in the case of Strippergate – and there was an echo of this in the recruiting scandal – he says, I tell everyone to follow the rules. Sometimes, they don’t follow the rules. And when they don’t follow the rules, they don’t tell me about it because they know how angry I would be.
So in Strippergate and in this recruiting scandal, there were people just one layer below him – his assistant coaches or in one case, his director of basketball operations, who were elbows-deep in wrongdoing, it would seem. And Pitino does not take responsibility for either hiring the wrong people or for hiring people who don’t listen to what he says. And right now Coach Pitino has a pending case against the University of Louisville Athletic Association, which technically paid his salary. And he’s seeking the $35 million which was left on his coaching contract.
DAVIES: Mike Sokolove’s book is “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino: A Story Of Corruption, Scandal And The Big Business Of College Basketball.” This is FRESH AIR.
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DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we’re speaking with writer Michael Sokolove, whose new book “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino” is about a recruiting scandal in college basketball. Last year, a federal grand jury charged 10 men in the case. And the first three to be tried were convicted yesterday. Pitino was not charged but did lose his job in the scandal.
When these federal indictments were announced a year ago, it was big news. Were people in the college basketball world shocked to hear that these things were going on?
SOKOLOVE: They absolutely were not shocked. What the FBI did was put names and faces to what many people had assumed or knew was going on. But there was an element of shock. And what that was was that the FBI was on the case. The FBI was knocking on doors. The FBI was bringing parents and coaches and players into interrogation rooms as opposed to the NCAA. If you’re in college basketball, it’s an occupational risk that you may run afoul of the NCAA. It was not considered an occupational risk that you may be visited by the FBI and may be looking at prison time. That was a shock.
DAVIES: And has it had a major effect on college basketball programs? I mean, Louisville, certainly, was turned upside down. They lost their coach. What about others?
SOKOLOVE: I think overall, it has not yet had a big impact on college basketball. You know, I mentioned that they dwell in a fantasy land. And part of that just involves putting your head in the sand. So one of the most prominent coaches in college basketball, the legendary Mike Krzyzewski, Coach K of Duke, was just quoted as saying this is a blip. This is nothing. You know, this trial is nothing. It’s a small sliver of what really goes on. Well, nobody believes that. But the fact that Coach K said it gives you an indication of the sort of institutional reaction to what has gone on and a determination to sort of try to get past this without really changing anything.
DAVIES: You know, you’re right that the question in the criminal case is whether this conduct violated federal criminal statutes. But what’s really at issue here is the fundamental hypocrisy, if not corruption, of the whole structure of college sports. Explain what you mean.
SOKOLOVE: Well, college sports does not pay its workforce. It generates billions of dollars, and it doesn’t pay. And at a certain juncture, that’s just not defensible. Maybe when the money was a little less, you could say, OK. They’re getting their scholarships. Now you’ve got players generating 10 and 20 and 30 and $40 million for particular programs, and they’re not real students. Their loyalty and their responsibility is to their team first, which takes up 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week. And you’re not paying them, you know? You are having their elders just spread the money around.
And they’re not all, by the way, going into pro basketball or pro football. Some of them are just moving through, not necessarily getting a degree, coming out with some injuries. And yet, the NCAA persists in the myth of the student athlete when everyone knows that if anything, it’s the athlete’s student. You know, the athlete is what you’re there for.
DAVIES: I want to come back to one thing you said earlier. You said a lot of people knew that shady things were going on and that there was a risk of running afoul of NCAA regulations. It is a whole new game if you have the FBI asking questions. Do you think that’ll make a difference in the future?
SOKOLOVE: I do think it will make some difference. But I think that difference will be just in the way that people conduct possibly criminal activity. I think people will be more careful. You already heard these people, you know, on the recordings that the FBI took of them, you know, talking about, you know, activity, I think people will be more careful. You already heard these people, you know, on the recordings that the FBI took of them, you know, talking about, you know, we have to do this in some underhanded ways. We have to get it out of certain accounts. So they knew they were engaged in criminal activity. I think they’ll be – or possibly criminal activity. I think they’ll become more careful. Sonny Vaccaro, the former Nike executive, the godfather of the grassroots circuit, he told me these people forgot where the boundaries were. You know, they got too greedy. He also said, and by the way, you never do this kind of stuff on the telephone.
So there’s an element of all of this that makes this look like just common criminal activity. It makes the three shoe companies seem like crime families on the basketball circuit. So to the extent that all of this is true – and I think it is; whether it’s criminal, we don’t know. It will continue to go on because there’s too much incentive for it to go on. I certainly think with the FBI on the case, people will become much more careful.
DAVIES: And just so we cover this, I mean, you said that in some respects, shoe and apparel companies look pretty bad in this. What do they say about their role in college recruitment and these charges?
SOKOLOVE: The apparel companies have been very quiet. They have put out sort of vanilla statements that this is not what we do. But they’ve been very, very quiet. There is a Adidas executive who is one of the three current defendants. His name is James Gatto. He’s being represented by a lawyer hired by Adidas. And by the way, James Gatto, who – this Adidas executive, his father was a high school coach. He’s an insider. He’s a basketball insider. Almost all of these defendants are well-liked, well-known insiders. They’re not people who operated, you know, outside the system.
I think one of the scariest things for people in the basketball industry, to the extent that they are alarmed, is these people were them. They were family. They were part of the basketball fraternity. And Adidas and Under Armour and Nike are part of the corporate basketball fraternity. And I don’t think they’re planning on much to change either if they can help it.
DAVIES: Michael Sokolove, thanks so much for speaking with us.
SOKOLOVE: Thank you. It’s great to be on with you.
DAVIES: Michael Sokolove’s new book is “The Last Temptation Of Rick Pitino: A Story Of Corruption, Scandal, And The Big Business Of College Basketball.” We spoke yesterday. Later in the day, in the first of three trials which sprang from an FBI investigation, a federal jury convicted three men of conspiring to steer cash payments to get coveted athletes into top basketball programs. One of those men was James Gatto Jr., the former head of global basketball marketing for Adidas. Coming up, Justin Chang reviews the fantasy thriller “Suspiria.” This is FRESH AIR.
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