Pay-for-Play Scandal Rocks College Basketball World

Brian Bowen Sr., the father of a top college basketball prospect, recently testified in court, revealing that his family was offered tens of thousands of dollars in cash for his son to play at several major college programs.

The father detailed that Christian Dawkins, an aspiring agent, had mentioned to him that Bowen’s family could pocket $150,000 if his son, Brian Bowen II, played for Oklahoma State, $50,000 if he played for the University of Arizona, or $100,000 at Creighton University.

The interesting detail here is that, despite such large sums of money being discussed, the Bowens never exactly knew where the promised money was coming from. The father testified that he assumed the money would be coming from assistant coaches on college teams, but he was not 100 percent sure. He claimed that he and his son never directly spoke to the schools on the topic of money.

Part of the reason for the ambiguity surrounding the trial and correctly identifying the guilty parties is that the NCAA officially does not allow pay-for-play. That is, students are not allowed to be paid to play NCAA college athletics. At the same time, however, any potential workarounds to this rule would give colleges a significant advantage in recruiting students. They would have the tangible, added incentive of hard cash to indirectly offer students to play sports. As a result, the scandal regarding Bowen II is complicated, as the money did not come from schools directly.

Two main parties are likely responsible for offering the money to Bowen II’s family: sportswear manufactures, such as Adidas, Nike, and Under Armour, and the colleges themselves.

The incentive for the latter to offer money to prospective college athletes is quite obvious. Large Division I schools make a lot of money when their sports teams do well. For example, Texas A&M’s athletic program brings in more than $190 million annually. If a coach pays a top student athlete to play a given university, that school will presumably do better athletically, bringing in more money for the school. At the end of the day, the same coach who paid to recruit athletes gets a larger paycheck.

The reason for sportswear manufacturers to offer money is a little more subtle. Most college athletic programs, especially those at large Division I schools, have contracts with one sportswear manufacturer, which provides equipment for the entire athletic program. So, if a top recruit attends, say, a “Nike school,” it is likely that, after college, they will turn pro and officially sign with that same manufacturing company.

In the Brian Bowen II scandal, this was likely the case. When one of the top high-school basketball players announced in 2017 that he would be attending the University of Louisville to graduate in 2021, many were quite surprised. Louisville had never been a school on anybody’s radar for Bowen II, and sportswriters wrote that the decision “came out of nowhere.” The ongoing trial claims that the signing was not just luck, but rather the result of a large payoff to Bowen Sr..

The University of Louisville is an “Adidas school,” and former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola is one of the defendants in court right now; he is alleged to have promised $100,000 to Bowen II, contingent on the young player attending Louisville. In court, Gassnola testified that Bowen II “had potential [and a] bright future.” He elaborated on his intent to pay Bowen II, admitting that he “concealed payments” to the families of student athletes and “kept them from universities.”

Furthermore, Gassnola revealed to the jury that Bowen II was not the only athlete to whose family he had provided payment. When the prosecutors prompted him to provide more details, Gassnola reluctantly admitted, “Five. Brian Bowen, Billy Preston, Silvio De Sousa, Dennis Smith and Deandre Ayton.”

From the trial so far, it seems likely that Adidas holds the brunt of the trial’s charges. Bowen Sr. stated under oath that former Louisville assistant coach Kenny Johnson “was flabbergasted, he was shocked” that Bowen’s family expected money from the school.

Although the trial is still ongoing, Bowen II and his family, the University of Louisville, and several Adidas consultants have already suffered several consequences.

In wake of the initial allegations, former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was fired. Former Adidas executive James Gatto has pleaded not guilty to the charges of fraud but no longer works for the company.

Regarding Bowen II himself, he was suspended from playing basketball at Louisville, and he subsequently transferred to South Carolina. However, after the NCAA ruled Bowen II ineligible for the 2018-2019 season, the young athlete decided to quit college basketball for good. Earlier this year, he signed a professional contract with the Sydney Kings as part of the NBL, a professional basketball league in Australia and New Zealand.

Bowen II was the first player signed in to the NBL’s “Next Stars program,” a pathway for NBA prospects who are unable or chose not to play college basketball.

“I am honored to be the first player under the NBL’s Next Stars program and feel it will be the perfect next step as I continue the path toward fulfilling my dream of playing in the NBA,” Bowen II stated in an ESPN release. “In joining the Sydney Kings, I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to start my professional career and look forward to learning from all the team’s veteran pros, like Andrew Bogut, Jerome Randle, and Brad Newley. I can’t wait to get out to Sydney and join the team.”

Despite the fact that Bowen II is now playing professional basketball, he and his family will nevertheless remain affected by the allegations and ongoing trial.

Before his testimony about the alleged cash offers, Bowen Sr. grew emotional when prompted to talk about his son. Mark Tracy of the New York Times recorded the following conversation between Bowen, Sr., and United States Attorney Edward Diskant.

“What is his name?” asked Diskant.

“Brian Bowen II.”

“Does he go by any nicknames?”

“Tugs”

“Is Tugs presently in college?” Diskant asked.

“No,” answered Bowen Sr.

“Why not?”

No response came from the upset father. His eyes began to tear up. He dropped his head into his hands and sobbed.

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