Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

The war for basketball shoe supremacy is a fierce one. Athletic wear makers fight tooth and nail to be noticed and win big sponsorships, whether it involves teams or superstar players. What they don’t want to see their logo attached to a massive scandal.

A top Adidas executive has joined four NCAA basketball assistant coaches in being named in a recent investigation into what people are calling “one of the biggest crackdowns on corruption” in college basketball history. All in all, 10 men are being investigated for their role in a recruiting fraud scandal that allegedly funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of blue-chip recruits in exchange for their commitment to sign with the schools in question.

One of those schools just happens to be one of the most celebrated programs in college sports: Louisville. Another is the University of Miami.

Acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim described the situation succinctly for the Associated Press: “The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one … (defendants) were circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes …”

The players, Kim said, were exploited to enrich these men. And that bribe money allegedly started with Adidas. Some went to players’ families. Some went to coaches. The idea was that the player would sign with the school, play a couple of years and when they finally made it to the NBA, would potentially sign with Adidas.

There were bribes, lies and kickbacks at every level. While no one knows quite yet whose hands are the dirtiest, they have named the defendants in the case. Coaches charged in the case include Chuck Person of Auburn, Emanuel Richardson of Arizona, Tony Bland of Southern California and Lamont Evans of Oklahoma State. Person and Evans were immediately suspended. Bland was placed on administrative leave. Others charged include James Gatto, director of global sports marketing for basketball at Adidas; Rashan Michel, a maker of custom suits for some of the NBA’s biggest stars, as well as a handful of managers, and financial advisors.

The NCAA didn’t mince words in its statement. President Mark Emmert told the AP, “Coaches hold a unique position of trust with student-athletes and their families, and these bribery allegations, if true, suggest an extraordinary and despicable breach of that trust …”

That “if true” part holds out a sliver of hope that, at least, some of the allegations will not have the evidence necessary to hold up in court. But, regardless of the result in the courthouse, the current state of things in the court of public opinion is not pretty. Even if one is not guilty in the court of law, they can be guilty in the court of public opinion.

The league has time to clean this up before tipoff of the 2017-18 season this November, but they will need to get a firm grip on the narrative and make sure the NCAA is carefully separated from the “individual actors” charged in this public relations catastrophe.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading PR firm.