Brad Augustine was described and profiled by Yahoo! Sports as “the most dangerous man in college basketball” just six months ago; now, that dangerous man is skating on any punishment for his alleged crimes.
The FBI dropped its charges against Augustine in February, and did not announce a reason for that decision. According to an attorney representing former Adidas executive Jim Gatto, who spoke in court two weeks ago, Augustine kept money paid to him by Adidas executives (and one FBI agent pretending to be a shoe-company official). That money was supposed to be passed on to the families of some of the nation’s top high school basketball players, per an April 4 report in the Washington Post.
Augustine ran the 1-Family AAU program in Florida, and convinced Adidas that he had the ability to influence the college decisions of his players. Once Augustine gained the trust of the giant shoe company, he told them he could act as middle man, running the cash between the company and the athlete’s family so as to keep Adidas out of the NCAA’s crosshairs. Those under-the-table payments were supposed to steer players top-flight players to sign with one of the college basketball programs that the sneaker companies sponsor and outfit.
After the FBI caught wind of this through wiretapping and other surveillance, they tracked Augustine down and set up a sting. An undercover agent met with him and handed him $12,700, with the intention being that the agency would nail Augustine when he passed that money to 1Family player Balsa Koprivica in order to convince Koprivica to commit to Louisville. (Again, why that act—paying someone what amounts to a signing bonus for their agreement to play for a specific team—is problematic or illegal is another question entirely.) Koprivica never got that money, but the FBI charged and arrested Augustine on wire fraud charges anyway. Those charges might have stuck, too, if Augustine wasn’t as much of a greaseball as the rest of the people involved in the shady underground economy created by the NCAA’s amateurism racket.
If you go by the rules set by the NCAA, as the FBI is, then cutting Augustine loose makes sense—he didn’t do the illegal thing he was paid to do. More broadly, though, the whole scenario is maddening. Augustine was potentially facing 80 years on wire fraud charges resulting from a lengthy and costly investigation by the FBI; at the risk of belaboring the obvious, taxpayer dollars funded all this. At the risk of belaboring it further, that’s 80 years in prison for being a middle man and handing cash—an endorsement from Adidas, if we’re calling both the payments and the NCAA’s arcane amateurism bylaws what they are—to a potential college athlete. Now, because Augustine did not deliver the payment to the deserving athlete’s family and kept it for himself, and because the FBI has chosen to hump amateurism into the fucking dirt, Augustine gets away without any penalty.
It’s scuzzy and inept on all sides and all the way down, but the Augustine case also amounts to another argument for regulating the economy of youth sports. There’s no sense in pretending that this (huge) shadow economy doesn’t exist; the only thing that’s changed is that now that the NCAA’s sporting a black eye in the form of the FBI investigation, the NCAA wants everything to do with regulating youth sports. Given the makeup of their toothless, star-studded committee tasked with “fixing” college basketball, I’d say an organization other than the NCAA is probably better suited for the task, but as of now, such an organization does not exist. So, then, the task loops back to the NCAA. Based on its past actions, it seems likely that the NCAA would just establish a youth wing that would function as an extension of the pro-amateurism body. This would almost certainly leave Augustine in the exact same spot had the NCAA conducted the investigation.
Until such time as an alternative organization exists—and I’m not holding my breath—assholes like Augustine will continue to take advantage of players and their families, and universities, shoe companies, agents, AAU coaches, and prep fixers will continue to mine every cent those players can make them. So of course Brad Augustine got away with it. “Getting away with it” is the name of this particular game.