Affiliate Marketing

Adidas NIL Program Opens Wounds For Those Punished In FBI Hoops Probe –

News of Adidas’ nationwide NIL program, open to current college athletes at all of its 109 affiliated Division I universities, hit Emanuel “Book” Richardson like “the ultimate smack in the face.”

Actually–as Richardson mulled it over during a WhatsApp call with Sportico–this was more akin to a “gut punch…and punch to the jaw…by Mike Tyson.”

The former Arizona assistant basketball coach was one of at least four people sentenced to prison in 2019 for their role in what the Department of Justice initially focused on as a conspiracy to create “a pay-to-play culture” in college basketball by bribing star recruits to attend Nike- and Adidas-sponsored schools.

That one of those apparel giants is now publicly flaunting plans to compensate players that attend their schools–following the NCAA’s capitulation last July to multiple state NIL laws–is a reminder of how dramatically college sports norms have changed in just a few years.

So quickly, in fact, that Adidas unveiled its NIL network on Wednesday while James Gatto, the company’s former director of global sports marketing for basketball, as well one-time Adidas consultant Merl Code, are still serving sentences in federal prison for defrauding the schools whose athletes they bribed. A representative for Adidas declined to comment.

“It was gut-wrenching to watch the federal government enforce unjust and illegal NCAA athlete compensation price-fixing schemes,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, which has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights as a means to end NCAA amateurism. “Times have changed, and it’s rewarding to watch Adidas and others provide compensation opportunities that college athletes have been denied for far too long.”

The emotions are more complicated, however, for those caught up in the FBI’s college basketball recruiting dragnet.

“I went to jail for this,” said Richardson, who had initially been caught on federal wiretaps talking about paying $40,000 to secure the eligibility of Wildcats recruit. (Arizona is a Nike school.) In the end, Richardson entered a guilty plea for a single count of accepting $20,000 in bribes with the intent of directing Arizona players to certain professional agents.

“I have a felony, I can’t do what I love, my passion was taken away,” he said. “I lost my family, my career, my house, my everything—and now, [in] five years it went from [the FBI saying], ‘I have your playbook,’ to now, ‘I am going to pay you on the books officially for your NIL.’ I just wonder how Americans feel that your tax dollars were used to investigate college basketball coaches.”

Meanwhile, Richardson gives Adidas “kudos” for “taking a negative and turning it into a positive.”

Adidas on Wednesday announced a wide-ranging NIL program that will offer money to any eligible athlete at the 109 DI schools sponsored by the company. Athletes will be paid for social media posts, and be able to opt into an affiliate marketing program that pays them for sales that they drive at the Adidas shop. The German apparel company didn’t say how much money would be offered as part of the program.

Other arrestees in the FBI probe included former college assistants Tony Bland (USC), Chuck Person (Auburn), and Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State); athlete middlemen Christian Dawkins, Munish Sood and Rashan Michel; and Jonathan Brad Augustine, a former Adidas-affiliated AAU program director. Dawkins’ year-and-a-half sentence commenced last month at a federal prison in Alabama.

Geoffrey Berman, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who oversaw the prosecutions, did not respond to a request for comment.

Harold Little, the father of former North Carolina-turned-NBA player Nassir Little, whose recruitment by Miami, another Adidas-sponsored school, came under FBI scrutiny, had many mixed feelings about Wednesday’s announcement.

“Everything that happened during that whole period with regards to the trial I think served as a catalyst for spurring the flexibility of the NCAA to allow student-athletes to maintain their rights to their name, image and likeness,” said the elder Little.

As for Adidas, Little said: “I think it is a smart idea for them to get ahead of it, now that it is above board and within the guidelines. Hell, exploit it: It is an opportunity for them to get publicity, and it creates an opportunity for the student-athlete.”

Little says that while he still holds “a bit of disdain” for Code and Dawkins for “putting my family’s name in this thing,” he also sympathizes with their plight, especially in light of what has transpired since.

“Maybe they were just ahead of the curve,” mused Little.

Earlier this month, Code published a tell-all book, Black Market: An Insider’s Journey into the High-Stakes World of College Basketball, in which he memorably declared: “If anyone thinks that there is such a thing as a clean big-time program, they need to wake up and smell the donkey s—.” (Attempts to reach Code’s lawyer were unsuccessful.)

Effectively blacklisted from college coaching, Richardson–who had been in discussions with the anti-NCAA Professional Collegiate League that never came to fruition–said he would like to at least connect with his alleged co-conspirators, who he now feels a kind of kinship to as fellow fall guys.

“But technically, you are not supposed to have contact, as if we were a cartel,” said Richardson. “And I feel terrible because I want to extend and send my love for all of them. None of them should be going through what we are going through.”

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