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Allegations against NC State foreshadow NCAA’s approach: Look out, coaches

While a half-dozen schools are expected to get hit with allegations stemming from the FBI’s college-basketball corruption sting, N.C. State gets to go first.

Finally, Dennis Smith Jr. put the Wolfpack first in something.

The Wolfpack’s Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, released Wednesday, was the first of presumably many so the contents thereof offer not only the case against N.C. State in the matter of the allegedly Adidas-financed recruitment of Smith, the much desired point guard from Fayetteville who played one unsatisfying season at N.C. State before leaving for the NBA, but a window into the cases against Kansas and Arizona and all the other schools who popped up on the FBI’s radar.

This is the brave new world of NCAA discipline, aided and abetted by the FBI and federal prosecutors, the investigatory process broadened and emboldened.

And with former basketball coach Mark Gottfried and former assistant coach Orlando Early singled out by the NCAA and the rest of the athletic department and university basically ignored, it’s a pretty clear indication what the fallout from the FBI investigation is going to be, not just in Raleigh but across the country.

They’re going after the coaches. (Somewhere, Bill Self and Sean Miller just twitched.) And only the coaches.

Which is, of course, the most NCAA way of doing things. Find a few convenient targets, slap them around, but never tinker with the spigot that gushes money. The basketball schools involved in this scandal are too big to fail. Not just Kansas and Arizona, but ACC schools like Louisville and Miami and, yes, N.C. State -- which under Debbie Yow’s watch hired Gottfried and Early and strengthened its ties with Adidas, creating the conditions and atmosphere that led to the at-all-costs pursuit of Smith, only to then turn around and claim victimhood at the hands of ... Adidas.

Prosecutors let the schools play the victim even as they still took their millions from Adidas, but they had to, because it was the only legal justification to make bribing a basketball prospect a federal crime. The NCAA wasn’t obligated to take that approach. It chose that approach.

Gottfried gets hit for failing to monitor his program.

No one gets hit for failing to monitor Gottfried.

“Those coaches chose to break the rules,” the university pointed out in a statement.

And for what is N.C. State itself called to judgment? For being sloppy with complimentary basketball tickets to recruits, the kind of secondary violation that results not from greed or avarice but sheer administrative boneheadedness.

The NCAA drew a line here, between the misdeeds of coaches and the responsibility of those who employ them. (Although at least one employer has some explaining to do: Cal State Northridge, where Gottfried is currently the basketball coach, hired last year despite the hailstorm of subpoenas around him.)

The funny thing is, while the NCAA has N.C. State cold on the ticket screw-ups, its case against Early and Gottfried apparently relies entirely on the court testimony of T.J. Gassnola, the Adidas fixer turned informant. If the NCAA has more, it’s not in here. That court testimony wouldn’t even have been available to the NCAA until it loosened its rules of evidence last summer. Is that alone enough to prosecute, even by NCAA standards?

While this process has a long way to go yet, the presentation of the allegations does offer some closure for N.C. State. Kevin Keatts and the new basketball coaching staff now know the extent of the NCAA’s charges against their predecessors and can move forward accordingly; the rest of the athletic department will file everything (but the tickets) under Gottfried and leave it there. From N.C. State’s perspective, it could have been worse.

But the rest of the college basketball world will read this with some trepidation. There were other, bigger names mentioned at trial far more frequently than Gottfried or Early were, which could be the foundation of stronger cases against others.

No one knew how the NCAA would use that testimony until Wednesday afternoon. They’re going to hang this on the coaches and let the basketball business proceed as usual. A few famous names may fall, but famous programs will not.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered four Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.