Before we get to the actual substance, let’s talk everyone off the ledge, dispel some innuendo, and establish a couple of facts: There were no NCAA or SEC violations committed by Alabama. There are no eligibility issues with Collin Sexton. There was no steering or pay for play with respect to his recruitment. This isn’t the Cam Newton Rule at work. Sexton’s parents took no money. In fact, Collin Sexton was already enrolled, on campus, and participating with the team when the allegations occurred. And, there very well may not have even been a crime committed.
[Former Director of Ops Kobie] Baker was not charged with a crime in the recent FBI roundup of figures allegedly connected with corruption in college basketball, UA acted in the belief that he was involved in a meeting with Atlanta-based advisor Rashan Michel who was arrested on Tuesday as part of an FBI sting operation.
According to the charges released yesterday by the United States Attorney Office in the Southern District of New York, Michel met with an unidentified “school administrator” who accepted a $5,000 payment and arranged an August meeting with the “father of a highly regarded incoming freshman” from the Atlanta area, along with Michel and a cooperating federal witness listed as CW-1.
An additional $10,000 was allegedly given to Michel at that meeting, and was to be given to the staff member for his “influence” in steering the player.
So, Michel’s financial services company paid Baker $5000 to arrange an August meeting with Sexton’s dad to sell the family on Michel’s services at the time Sexton becomes pro-eligible. After the meeting, Michel gave Baker another $10,000 to give to the family to steer Collin to Michel at a future date when Sexton announced he was going pro.
Of course, that’s not an NCAA violation. Of course, that doesn’t impact Sexton’s eligibility. It’s likely not even a crime -- it sounds more like aggressive referral as happens in a lot of businesses: Paying those with connections to a prospective client to get them on board.
As the Wall Street Journal’s legal team wrote yesterday, even for the really scuzzy AAU/Adidas/Pay-for-Play allegations at Auburn and Louisville, those things still may not be a crime.
The FBI seems to be relying on fraud and “honest services” to find criminality here. But, at least as far as Baker goes, where is the theft of honest services? Upon whom has a fraud been perpetuated? There is not, to the best of my knowledge, a criminalization of paid referral fees. Does it look bad for the school? Absolutely. Is it a crime? I’m far less certain.
I’ve gone round and round my sometimes-creative legal brain, and I can’t figure out who the victim is. The Feds are couching this in terms of the universities being the victims in some of these cases, as they do when prosecuting crooked politicians. But, even if Baker had perpetuated a fraud here of “honest services” wouldn’t it be on the Sexton family?
The Feds have a terrible track record of prosecuting sports-related crimes, real or imagined. There is a reason Baker has not been charged.
The tragedy in all this lies with Collin Sexton and Coach Johnson’s now-slimed reputation. Avery Johnson and Antoine Pettway busted their asses to recruit a program-changing point guard. Selling the prospect of great visibility, team leadership, and other young dynamic playmakers on the roster, the staff eventually won the season’s fiercest recruiting battle. For Sexton’s part, he came to Alabama to learn how to be a better point guard under one of the best to ever play the position.
But, truly irresponsible clickbait and salacious tweets are making a mountain out of a molehill. Neither the program, the player, nor the coaching staff have done anything to be smeared with Forde and Wolken’s innuendo. And, until there is some damned solid concrete evidence to the contrary, those two twits are toeing a mighty fine line across defamation’s “knowing falsity”.
If everything is as truly seems, then some very public apologies must be forthcoming. Hot Takes must have a public and real consequence when a good kid and a good man are smeared for relevance by hacks with an axe to grind.
#BuckleUp...in more ways than one.