Updated (9/26/2017, 6:48 p.m.) with comments from Richard M. Southall, director of the University of South Carolina’s College Sport Research Institute.
Federal officials on Tuesday announced criminal charges against 10 people, including four college-basketball coaches, in a corruption investigation. The charges include bribery, corruption, and fraud.
Chuck Person, an associate head coach at Auburn University, and Lamont Evans, an assistant coach at Oklahoma State University, are among the coaches accused, along with managers, financial advisers, and “representatives of a major international sportswear company.”
In one instance, Mr. Person was allegedly paid $91,500 in bribes over a 10-month span in exchange for influence over college athletes.
At a news conference, Joon H. Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that the coaches — Mr. Person, Mr. Evans, Anthony Bland, and Emanuel Richardson — used the trust they had earned with players to push them toward certain financial managers and advisers once they turned professional in the National Basketball Association.
According to a legal complaint based on a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Person stated before taking a bribe that one player exclusively listened to him. “He listens to one person … That’s me, yep,” reads the complaint.
When Mr. Person urged one player and his mother to work with a certain financial adviser, he lied about the adviser’s credentials, Mr. Kim said.
According to the complaint, Mr. Person said that the adviser worked with both himself and Charles Barkley, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame.
Mr. Kim said that the National Collegiate Athletic Association had been informed of the charges on Tuesday morning. His office did not seek to regulate college basketball, but the reach of the charges shows just how pervasive conspiracy and bribery can be, he said.
Mark Emmert, the NCAA’s president, said in a written statement that the charges were particularly disturbing as coaches were accused of having violated the trust of athletes and their families.
“The nature of the charges brought by the federal government are deeply disturbing. We have no tolerance whatsoever for this alleged behavior,” Mr. Emmert said. “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust.”
Oklahoma State released a statement expressing shock over the bribery charges against Mr. Evans.
“We were surprised to learn this morning of potential actions against one of our assistant basketball coaches by federal officials,” the statement says. “We are reviewing and investigating the allegations. We are cooperating fully with officials.”
In a second statement, Oklahoma State announced Mr. Evans’s immediate suspension. “OSU takes seriously the high standards of conduct expected in our athletic department and does not tolerate any deviation from those standards,” the statement says.
‘We’re Unaware of Any Misconduct’
Bloomberg reports that in a written statement an Adidas spokeswoman said the company was not aware of an employee’s misconduct that led to an arrest.
“Today we became aware that federal investigators arrested an Adidas employee. We are learning more about the situation,” the statement says. “We’re unaware of any misconduct and will fully cooperate with authorities to understand more.”
Mr. Person was suspended from the university without pay, effective immediately, Auburn University said in a written statement.
“This morning’s news is shocking. We are saddened, angry, and disappointed,” the statement says. “We are committed to playing by the rules, and that’s what we expect from our coaches. In the meantime, Auburn is working closely with law enforcement, and we will help them in their investigation in any way we can.”
In a written statement, Lynn Swann, athletic director at the University of Southern California, said the institution was “shocked” after hearing that Mr. Bland, an assistant men’s basketball coach, had been arrested.
“USC Athletics maintains the highest standards in athletic compliance across all of our programs and does not tolerate misconduct in any way,” Mr. Swann said. “We will cooperate fully with the investigation and will assist authorities as needed and, if these allegations are true, will take the needed actions.”
Similarly, the University of South Carolina learned about the charges after the Department of Justice issued a news release, according to a written statement.
“The university is aware that former assistant men’s basketball coach Lamont Evans has been charged by federal prosecutors, and learned of the charge from a press release issued by the Department of Justice. Evans coached at USC from 2012 until April 2016,” the statement says. “These are serious accusations that are not consistent with University of South Carolina values.”
In a written statement, the University of Arizona’s athletics department said it had learned about the charges when Mr. Richardson, an assistant men’s basketball coach, was arrested.
“We work under the basic directive that all department personnel operate within applicable laws and NCAA rules,” the statement says. “The behavior that Richardson is accused of is completely unacceptable and does not reflect the principles of this athletics department.”
A ‘Fundamentally Corrupt System’
Richard M. Southall, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina at Columbia and director of its College Sport Research Institute, said the FBI’s findings are a consequence of the “fundamentally corrupt system” that is college sports. By prohibiting players from being paid their fair-market value on the football field or the basketball court, Mr. Southall said, the NCAA has forced those payments underground.
“It is a multibillion-dollar industry, and the influence of money on coaches and athletes is painted as somehow two different things,” he said. “We want to make sure that we keep the players from having any access to any of the money … you can’t just pay the players to sign with X school or Y shoe company … everything has to be done in back channels and nefarious ways.”
“What should be an open business transaction,” he added, “becomes a scandal.”
Mr. Southall, who thinks players should be paid however much the market will support, said he doesn’t fault athletes for wanting a piece of the action.
“Ask them what kind of car their head coach drives,” he said. “They see all the perks.”
In theory, the charges announced on Tuesday could spur new attempts to overhaul college sports. But Mr. Southall was skeptical that colleges would be scared straight. And there is little momentum, he said, for creating a fairer system of paying athletes, in part because the players are often reluctant to challenge a status quo that could be their ticket to a lucrative professional career.
“This will be easy for the colleges and the universities to say, ‘Well, we’ve identified the 10 bad apples … and boy, we didn’t know anything about this going on,’” Mr. Southall said. “Really? Come on.”
Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz and Michael Vasquez contributed to this report.