Josh Kendall

Will Final Four banner have to come down? USC and college basketball on shaky ground

We can add a new acronym to the lexicon of college sports, and it’s a really scary one.

South Carolina athletics director Ray Tanner released a statement Friday that read, “We first learned of the allegations in the Yahoo Sports report last night, and remain committed to cooperating with the NCAA and the DOJ.”

NCAA is shorthand that every college sports fan knows. It’s the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The “DOJ” in Tanner’s statement is the Department of Justice, yes that Department of Justice, and college basketball fans are going to become familiar with that acronym soon enough.

That’s because of a blockbuster Yahoo report from Friday morning that implicates several schools, including South Carolina and Clemson, in a scandal that could see the Gamecocks forced to vacate their 2017 Final Four appearance among other things.

The Yahoo report is based on documents the organization saw that were compiled in an FBI investigation of ASM Sports, an agency run by NBA agent Andy Miller before Miller resigned his license in response to the investigation. The documents assert, among a lot of other things, that former South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier received at least $6,115 from ASM Sports while playing for the Gamecocks and that current guard Brian Bowen and his family received $7,000 in benefits from ASM Sports.

To be clear, no one is alleging anyone at South Carolina gave Dozier or Bowen money or that any of the benefits they allegedly received were meant to persuade them to go to South Carolina.

Basically, Miller and his agency were doing what Silicon Valley venture capitalists do – widely sprinkle what is to them a small amount of money in exchange for a piece of a lot of commodities, of which a small handful will be worth a ton of money down the road. If that analogy sounds too cynical, it should not. This is exactly what this situation boils down to – athletes as commodities being “invested in.” That the situation has become a federal investigation and Tanner has to cooperate with the Department of Justice is evidence enough of that.

The fact that USC’s hands are clean in the exchange of the money doesn’t matter much given the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. While it’s impossible to predict how the NCAA will rule based on its wildly fluctuating precedent, accepting an impermissible benefit from anyone during his playing career would seem to make Dozier ineligible and therefore all the games he played in losses in the mind of the NCAA.

The sheer magnitude of this investigation – which touches in one degree or another powerhouse programs like Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky – might help the Gamecocks. It’s possible that the NCAA can’t get its arms around something so big or just doesn’t want to.

That doesn’t seem to the case at the moment though, given that NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement that the Yahoo report exposed “systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now.”

South Carolina opened itself to even greater scrutiny in this case by allowing Bowen to join the team in January. At the time, Bowen already had been linked to the investigation and Louisville coach Rick Pitino had been dismissed in part because of a report saying Bowen’s family had received $100,000 for him to attend Louisville. Gamecocks officials insisted at the time that they had looked into Bowen’s situation and felt comfortable that Bowen’s presence wouldn’t adversely affect the school in any way.

That position looks shaky at the moment. As does a lot of the college basketball world.