COLUMBIA — South Carolina is not being investigated by the NCAA in relation to the FBI’s probe into college basketball. Whether it ever will be is the looming question, now that former assistant coach Lamont Evans has been sentenced to three months in prison.
The NCAA agreed to not interfere with the federal investigation until all trials and sentences were completed, when Evans and several others were arrested in September 2017. While they have opened investigations into some of the alleged repeat offenders — Louisville, Kansas, Arizona — they have not begun looking into any of the other several dozen schools who were at least mentioned during the trials.
Yet there is that possibility. The NCAA is already viewed as being mostly powerless when it comes to enforcement, due to high-profile cases such as Miami football and North Carolina basketball, where it seemed to have discovered clear cases of broken rules. The organization either stepped all over itself or accepted a pricy legal defense claiming nothing that was proven actually happened and the schools skated.
Now that the FBI is mostly out of the way (former Auburn assistant Chuck Person will be the last to be sentenced on July 9), it’s up to the NCAA if and when it wants to investigate all of the programs named in an extensive wire-tapping probe. It stands to reason that if the NCAA wants to keep its version of amateurism in place, it has to at least look at some of the other programs, and if it looks at one, it would most likely have to look at all.
“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now if we want college sports in America. Simply put, people who engage in this kind of behavior have no place in college sports,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement. “They are an affront to all those who play by the rules.”
South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner said Friday that USC hasn’t heard a peep from the NCAA or FBI. He said the school turned over all Evans-related material to the FBI in 2017.
NCAA vice president of Division I Governance Kevin Lennon recently said notices of allegations will be coming to programs already under investigation, though he didn’t say when. South Carolina is not one of those programs.
But could it be in the future?
There is concern at USC that the names of Evans and former point guard P.J. Dozier in the court transcripts could put the greatest accomplishment in program history — the 2017 Final Four — in danger of being stricken from the record books.
But that’s up to the NCAA, like the cases of LSU, Auburn, Southern Cal, Miami, Oklahoma State, N.C. State, Alabama and Clemson, among dozens of others. Clemson was linked to the FBI probe when it was claimed that former star Jaron Blossomgame accepted money from a mobile payment vendor, and former assistant coach Steve Smith was fired when his voice was caught on a wiretap.
The NCAA is already looking into three programs and it seems that if it opens a new investigation anytime soon, it will start with LSU. Coach Will Wade’s voice was caught on wiretap discussing offers and potential money to be paid to recruits, which led to a suspension when he refused to meet with his superiors.
“Look, I sat down with LSU and I have answered any and all questions with regards to all of the media reporting and everything that is out there," Wade told a roomful of reporters after several questions about the wiretap during the SEC spring meetings. "And ultimately that is what got us to where we are today.”
Wade has since been reinstated and apologized, but LSU has operated as if nothing egregious ever happened and publicly supported him. That's also the case at Arizona, where coach Sean Miller was heavily ensnared in the trial allegations.
Federal prosecutors also took the tactic of claiming the schools were the victims in these cases, preyed upon by sports shoes/apparel companies and greedy men wanting to promote their own sports agencies. If that’s the line of thinking, then how can the NCAA, which is made up of those schools, punish victims?
There has been no word since USC cooperated in 2017. Dozier declined to speak about the matter when approached last summer. Evans pleaded guilty, will serve his time and has to repay $22,000 while also facing deportation after his jail sentence concludes (he is a native of Barbados but has lived in the U.S. since age 2).
All USC or any other school can do is keep doing what it has since the probe was first revealed nearly two years ago.
Wait until the NCAA shows up — if it ever does.