Yahoo!, which somehow still staffs a sports department and definitely isn’t a Jeb!-like holdover from the Web 1.9 days, has a new college basketball report out today that is Very Important. I know it’s Very Important because “federal investigation,” “meticulous,” “prominent,” and “underbelly” all appear in the first sentence.
Cutting through the heady haze of college athletics journalism, this is an article based on expense reports from a sports agency called ASM Sports. Those reports apparently document “cash advances, as well as entertainment and travel expenses for high school and college prospects and their families.”
The only document– and please know that the tireless staff of Yahoo! Sports “viewed hundreds of pages of documents,” according to Yahoo! Sports– mentioned that references Michigan State’s men’s basketball program in any respect is an expense reimbursement request Christian Dawkins, a former ASM agent, filed with the agency. One of those requests was dated May 3, 2016: “Redwood Lodge. Lunch w/Miles Bridges Parents [sic]. $70.05.” Another was from the same date: “ATM Withdrawl [sic]: Miles Bridges mom [sic] advance. $400.” The article also states: “According to the documents, Dawkins has dinners listed with plenty of boldface names in the sport – Tom Izzo . . . .” That’s everything on the Spartans.
As one possible starting point, we can acknowledge that the NCAA prohibits student-athletes from receiving money from agents. Whatever the wisdom behind or efficacy of that policy, I’m not sure we even have evidence of a payment to Bridges, the Spartans’ premier player, here.
First, despite that exhaustive (well maybe not quite that exhaustive: “Yahoo[!] did not view all of the documents in the three criminal cases tied to the investigation, but . . . .”) doc review, Yahoo! declined to publish the records referencing Bridges. They published multiple pages of reports mentioning other players but, for some undisclosed reason, decided not to publish those that mention Bridges (or Izzo). That means we have to take the authors’ word that the records they saw but did not include with their article said what they say they do.
Second, assuming those records exist and are as described, I don’t think they actually evidence payments to Bridges himself. A– and perhaps the only– reasonable reading of the two entries are for a lunch with Bridges’ parents and a payment to Bridges’ mother. The negative implication is that Bridges himself did not attend the lunch and did not receive the payment. This distinction is significant in light of the NCAA’s prior case against Cam Newton. There, the NCAA suspended Newton on multiple occasions arising out of allegations that Newton’s father, Cecil, tried to secure a pay-for-play agreement on Newton’s behalf with Mississippi State but ultimately reinstated him based on Auburn’s successful argument that Newton was unaware of his father’s efforts. If Dawkins, in treating Bridges’ parents to lunch and giving Bridges’ mother cash, acted without Bridges’ knowledge, there would appear to be no basis for the NCAA to punish Bridges.
Third, a technical but not legally insignificant point is that these records are, at most, indirect evidence of payments to Bridges’ family. They’re good evidence, but they aren’t direct evidence that the payments actually were made. Even if Dawkins had a receipt of the ATM withdrawal, for example, we don’t have direct evidence that he provided that cash to Bridges’ mother.
Finally on the direct issues, the passing reference to Tom Izzo obviously is meaningless, but it’s good for SEO. There is no indication or allegation that any MSU official had any knowledge of or involvement with these payments.
A possible reaction to this information is that $470.05 isn’t a lot of money, especially in the context of the market for projected NBA lottery picks like Bridges, and fifteen percent of it came in the form of a meal shared between (at least) three people: Dawkins, Bridges’ mother, and Bridges’ father. “Redwood Lodge” appears to be a reference to Redwood Steakhouse Brewery & Grill, a restaurant in Flint, where Bridges grew up and his parents (we’ll assume) still live, right off I-75 near the junctions with US-23 and I-69. Redwood “offers casual upscale dining in a comfortable atmosphere.” They now offer sushi and currently have Lent specials running through Easter Sunday. Can three people eat lunch at Redwood for $70.05, including tax and tip? Yes, pretty easily it turns out: three lunch entrees, each of which comes with a side and salad (grilled sirloin ($13.99), grilled/blackened salmon ($16.99), and porter battered fish & chips ($11.99) to take the top three options), plus tax (still six percent, I believe) and an eighteen percent tip only gets you to $53.75, leaving plenty of room for dessert or some of their award-winning draughts.
As a final final note, it does feel a little bit weird to be writing what borders on an NCAA-investigation-truther post, but the overblown drapings of the Yahoo! article alone practically begged for it regardless of the scope and significance of the evidence. My only real surprise in that regard is that they didn’t publish this closer to Selection Sunday. On the evidence itself, I think that when it comes to benefits provided to student-athletes’ parents, the NCAA’s decision on the Newton case creates a huge loophole for players like Bridges, who, to avoid punishment, simply need to be unaware of their parents’ activities. That seems like a fairly easy position for Bridges to take here should the NCAA decide to act on this information.