On Monday, a second trial to deal with the charges from college basketball’s bribery scandal began in U.S. District Court. Former financial advisor Christian Dawkins and former Adidas consultant Merl Code both returned as defendants after being convicted in the first trial, and they are charged here with counts including bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and Travel Act conspiracy. All those charges stem from the two allegedly bribing five assistant coaches at various universities to encourage their players to sign with Dawkins after going pro.
This trial didn’t promise to be wildly different from the first one, which involved paying players to go to Adidas schools. But on the second day, prosecution witness Marty Blazer may have significantly widened the scope of this scandal to encompass something even bigger than college basketball: college football. And not only college football, but football programs including Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Penn State.
Blazer is a former financial advisor based in Pittsburgh. When his illicit attempts to recoup losses from poor investments got him in trouble with the SEC, he became a cooperating witness with the FBI. It was in that role that he met with college basketball coaches, players, and those players’ families, offering them money up front in exchange for a business relationship after they turned pro. On the witness stand today, however, Blazer didn’t just talk about his under-the-table basketball bribes. He also unexpectedly implicated the football programs of a few of the most successful college teams in the country, and also North Carolina.
Blazer talked on the witness stand about his history of paying college football players and their families/friends in order to get them as clients when they turned pro because his experience in that area is part of why the government wanted him to help with their college basketball investigation. And while the idea of college football players secretly receiving money should shock absolutely no one, and the two schools Blazer talked about most specifically have already been implicated in plenty of scandals already, it will be fascinating to see what more Blazer has to say when he goes back into court on Wednesday.
Today, Blazer testified that in 2009 he had an NFL player as a client whose father was an assistant coach at Penn State. (That coach would almost positively be Larry Johnson, Sr.) That coach asked Blazer to pay a Penn State player’s father $10,000 so that the player would stay at PSU instead of entering the NFL Draft. That player, who would almost certainly be Aaron Maybin, left school anyway, and the father repaid Blazer the money. Blazer testified that he had never paid a college football coach, but aside from that first-round pick at Penn State, he also mentioned paying a UNC player (Hakeem Nicks, almost definitely), who then recruited other Tar Heels to work with Blazer.
These shenanigans at UNC have already been uncovered and punished by the NCAA. And Joe Paterno’s Penn State program obviously had much bigger problems. What might really shake things up, though, would be if Blazer goes into detail about which players he might have been paying at Brady Hoke’s Michigan, Brian Kelly’s Notre Dame, or Nick Saban’s Alabama. Blazer’s history in college football isn’t directly relevant to the prosecution of Dawkins and Code, so it’s unclear how much more we’ll hear about it on Wednesday. But given the programs involved and the disrespect towards the sacred ideals of amateurism that Blazer identified, it seems likely that the NCAA is going to have its hands full for a long time.