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. Continue reading