Brian Bowen, out of La Lumiere High School in Indiana, was recruited by the likes of Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona and Kansas. He was ranked as the No. 13 player in the 2017 class by 247Sports, No. 21 by Rivals and No. 14 by ESPN. The five-star prospect played in the McDonald’s All-American game last March and signed with the Cardinals three months later.
It’s now late April 2018 and Bowen not only has yet to play a college basketball game, he’s still waiting on an NCAA ruling to see if it’ll ever happen.
“If it’s a second-team all-city player, they’re not going to devote the time and resources that they would for a McDonald’s All-American player,” said sports lawyer Don Jackson. “And you go back and you look, you’ll see statements from me going back years: I think it’s discriminatory as hell.
“But they’re going to devote more time, resources to investigating high-level players and international players. And they’re going to look under every rock.”
Jackson, who heads The Sports Group law firm in Montgomery, Alabama, has a feel for what currently faces Bowen and South Carolina. A centerpiece to the FBI’s probe into college basketball, Bowen, who transferred to USC in January, recently declared for the NBA draft. He hasn’t hired an agent, meaning the 6-foot-7 small forward can return to the Gamecocks.
But that’s only if he’ll be allowed on a college court.
Early entry college players have until May 30 to decide whether they’ll stay in the draft or return to school. That list is deep with 130 players, but Bowen is perhaps the most unusual of them all. He still must be reinstated by the NCAA. If such news isn’t revealed by the end of next month, Bowen likely goes pro.
He was invited to the NBA Draft Combine next month in Chicago, according to a Sports Illustrated report.
Jackson has a long history in dealing with NCAA eligibility cases. The State newspaper talked with him last week to provide perspective on the latest in the Bowen situation. This interview has been condensed and edited.
The State: Do you think the NCAA cares about this May 30 deadline? Do you think it’ll speed up their process to give Bowen and USC an answer before then?
Jackson: I don’t think they care. And let me tell you why. Every year I represent high-level players that are first-year players, that are coming into colleges around the country. I’ve represented several McDonald’s All-American players and they’re coming into college with the very possibility of declaring after a year.
Well, the (NCAA) Eligibility Center could really care less about the idea of keeping them off the court in December and even sometimes into January. They should be concerned about that because the reality of the matter is they’re impacting the lives of these young student-athletes. But my thing is they really don’t care.
But the other issue is this: Depending on how far along the Eligibility Center’s investigation center is in this case, it’s not likely — although it’s possible — that they would be far enough along in the process right now for them to complete an initial eligibility certification. Meaning there’s so much mystery right now about the players that were involved, whose names were mentioned in this FBI investigation, based on the available information, it’s not gonna be a quick process.
The State: The Bowen allegations were first revealed in September. Can you get a sense of how far along the NCAA could be in this investigation?
Jackson: Just based on the available information from the investigation, I’m just not sure how far they might be as far as certifying. Now, on the other hand, from the things that I’ve read from his lack of knowledge as to whether or not a family member received a benefit, that’s not something that should take months and months. So it is possible that he can objectively establish that he had no knowledge of any kind of transfer of anything of value to a family member and he can establish that. Well, then, conceivably a decision can be made by then.
But I’ll tell you even with that, the history of the Eligibility Center is to drag even that determination out the most. And quite often, if they can’t prove one angle, if they can’t establish violations in one area, they’ll open up a whole new line of inquiry to try to establish violations somewhere else.
The State: What makes this case different from others of its kind? And how can that be adding to the delayed process?
Jackson: It’s already difficult to get people to cooperate in an ordinary NCAA investigation. Well, now let’s add the criminal component to it, and that makes it more difficult to collect information in these cases and it could lengthen the certification process for every player that’s involved.
I mean, you'vegot an ongoing criminal investigation, so the problem now is every potential witness in an amateurism investigation, their statements to the NCAA could very easily be filtered right through to law enforcement. So now you’re not concerned about violations of NCAA legislation, now your concern is if you’re actually violating federal law.
So that’s going to make it more difficult for schools, for student-athletes and for the NCAA to adequately determine all of the facts in these cases now.
The State: Do you see Bowen eventually getting cleared to play?
Jackson: I would not write off the idea of him ultimately being cleared to play at the University of South Carolina, because the reality of the matter is even if there was an exchange of money or anything of value, he can establish that he had no knowledge of it. In that situation, I think he can go through the reinstatement process, his lack of knowledge would be mitigating factor and I think there’s a very realistic chance that he would be reinstated.
The State: But before May 30?
Jackson: The big issue here is just going to be the timing of everything. It really gets down to this: Quite often you have players that miss four, five, six games because the NCAA Eligibility Center is still investigating and they are unwilling to close out an investigation until they can investigate every possible angle.
Unfortunately, that’s the dilemma he’s faced with right now and that’s the dilemma that the university’s faced with right now. And from the Eligibility Center standpoint, they aren’t willing to certify a player until every possible angle has been played out.
In these cases, all information may not be available for years now because these cases could wind up in the legal system for years.