Uncertainty for Maryland and college basketball after latest FBI-driven subpoenas

Nearly 10 months have passed since four men’s college basketball assistant coaches were fired at Power 5 schools after being arrested by the FBI for allegedly taking payments for steering players to professional agents.

Less than a month after that, Rick Pitino was fired as coach at Louisville after being accused of paying $100,000 to a top recruit. While Pitino has vehemently denied the allegation, the 65-year-old Hall of Famer has not found another job.

Except for Pitino and the four assistants losing their jobs, life goes on at the programs where they coached. For example, Kenny Johnson, a former Towson assistant and one of Pitino's staff members who reportedly was privy to the promise made to five-star prospect Brian Bowen, recently was hired by new coach Ashley Howard at La Salle.

Now it’s Maryland’s turn in the unwanted spotlight brought by the FBI’s widespread investigation into corruption in college basketball. The university announced Friday that it had responded to two grand jury subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney for Southern District of New York.

“This is just another [example] of Maryland playing on the big stage in college athletics,” said Dionne Koller, who directs the Center for Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “They went to the Big Ten and they’re trying to become that powerhouse athletic program.

“Part of that is you take the good with the bad. With these sort of shady allegations of corruption, they are now being at least marginally drawn into this. Whether there’s going to be a lot of legal fallout for the University of Maryland, I don’t know.”

Coach Mark Turgeon and his staff — including assistant Bino Ranson, the only Maryland employee named in either subpoena — will have to wait to see how being thrown in with eight other schools in the FBI probe will affect a program already viewed by many to be at at a crossroad.

Turgeon, who has come under fire from fans after last season’s disappointing 19-13 record, will have to wait awhile along with some of his coaching counterparts as the FBI decides which programs to pursue, according to longtime college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.

“It’ll probably be a year before we know anything else as far as where responsibility lies,” Bilas said in a telephone interview Friday. “The one thing that still sticks with me is that for this to be wire fraud or mail fraud that’s been charged, there has to be a victim.

“For the government to claim that the university was a victim and that those that are charged were out to victimize the universities, when in reality even if they did what was alleged, their motivation was to help the school and to help themselves by virtue of that.”

Koller doesn’t disagree with what Bilas, who has a law degree from Duke, said about the guilt being difficult to prove, but added that prosecutors might also have to look at the bigger picture.

“If you look at cost and benefits to a university based on how an athletic department is operating — if it’s operating with some corruption and NCAA rules violations, if it’s operating in a way that’s diverting money from other resources for the campus, there might a victim, which is the university at large,” Koller said Saturday.

The two subpoenas delivered to Maryland over the past three months involved a former player whose name was redacted from the document and former five-star recruit Silvio De Sousa, who wound up at Kansas after recruiting analysts predicted he would land in College Park.

The subpoena that has the redacted name of the former Maryland player, his family and potential agent also requested communication and files from Ranson, a Baltimore native who came to Maryland in 2010 to work for then-coach Gary Williams and has remained throughout Turgeon’s tenure.

Since Ranson was the lead recruiter for Diamond Stone and was widely credited with helping Maryland beat out home-state Wisconsin for the McDonald’s All American in 2015, it is believed that Stone’s name was redacted.

The second subpoena doesn’t mention any Maryland employee by name, but Turgeon’s program was drawn into the investigation of two recruits, including De Sousa, who allegedly received money to go to Kansas. It also alleges that De Sousa’s guardian said he needed “another $20,000” to pay back another school and or rival shoe company, believed to be Under Armour.

In a statement Friday, Maryland officials acknowledged receiving the subpoenas March 15 and June 29, writing: “The University complied with the subpoenas by providing responsive records. None of the responsive records shows evidence of any violations or applicable NCAA bylaws by university coaches, staff or players ...”

Neither Turgeon nor Ranson was available for comment.

At his introductory news conference the day before the second subpoena arrived, new athletic director Damon Evans was asked about the internal review the university conducted when the allegations involving Stone taking a little over $14,000 agent Andy Miller came to light in late February.

Though Evans was vague about the details uncovered by the review, he said: “We just wanted to make sure we looked into the situation, understood what was going on, and that’s where we are. Right now, I feel comfortable with where we are. ... But we have done our due diligence, and we are in a good spot right now.”

Former Maryland basketball star Len Elmore, who received his law degree from Harvard after his pro career ended and later served four years as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., said there should be no rush to judgment on Turgeon’s program.

“A subpoena is not an indication of wrongdoing,” Elmore said Friday. “It’s an indication that more information is required. … As long as there’s not any accusation of wrongdoing, and this is just a subpoena to provide a grand jury with greater information, I don’t see that hurting Maryland at all.”

The first indication of whether Maryland will be affected by the publicity resulting from the subpoenas will come in recruiting.

After bringing in a five-player class ranked No.7 nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten in 2018, the Terps are noticeably lagging in 2019, having signed just two players, twin brothers and power forwards Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, who are both four-star prospects.

Corey Evans, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, thinks the timing is not great for the Terps staying in the hunt for other top recruits.

Comparing Maryland to Southern California, which put together a Top 25 class for 2017 despite being dragged into the investigation last fall, Evans said: “It’s in a hotbed for talent. It’s not a blue-blood, but it’s right below it. The one thing that might affect it is the timing of it all. … If it happened in February, they can at least battle though it. They’re going into the July evaluation period, so the timing is definitely not a good thing.”

Bilas said he believes it will be the NCAA, not the FBI, that will ultimately mete out most of the penalties.

“These cases are right in their wheelhouse — this is amateurism,” Bilas said. “This isn’t like Baylor when Patrick Dennehy was murdered. They don’t have jurisdiction over a criminal act. They have jurisdiction over people getting money. As soon as the government sorts this out and the NCAA is allowed to go in there, they’ll stand up with righteous indignation and they’ll hit whoever is in the crosshairs of the government."

 

 

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
37°