An FBI College Hoops Corruption Probe Ended The Careers Of Four Black Coaches. Where Are They Now?

AP Photo: Peter K. Afriyie

The FBI organized a 2017 operation to eradicate corruption that was prevalent in college basketball recruiting at that time.

Four Black assistant coaches, Book Richardson, Lamont Evans, Tony Bland and Chuck Person, and “a group of six agents, their financial backers and shoe company representatives…were arrested in the 2017 federal FBIprobe aimed at rooting out an entrenched system of off-the-books payments to players and their families that, at the time, was against NCAA rules.”

But many people knew about these pervasive practices for a long time. They were even portrayed on the big screen with Spike Lee aptly depicting the unsavory world of college basketball recruiting in his critically-acclaimed 1998 film “He Got Game.”

According to the renowned screenwriter and director, “the movie was inspired by the abundance of young athletes from Coney Island[Brooklyn] who were often dealing with illegal recruiting tactics surrounding offers to play college basketball.”

Heading into the NCAA National Championship games next week, “all the arrested assistants are [still] banned by the NCAA, while the agents and shoe reps saw their connections in the college world vanish,” the Associated Press reports. “Meanwhile, most of the head coaches Richardson and the others worked with are white and still have jobs in college basketball.”

Only one out of the ten people that were arrested in connection with the FBI probe was white. When Richardson was asked why Black men bore the brunt of the penalty. He replied, “Low-hanging fruit…Who do you see all the time that’s out there? Black assistants. Who is forging the relationships? Black assistants.”

With the new laws and court decisions over the past couple of years, it is now legal for college players to profit from sponsorships using their name, image, or likeness referred to as NIL. As Richardson postulates, “NIL should stand for ‘Now It’s Legal’ — a nod to the harsh reality that most of those under-the-table payments for which he was jailed can be made legitimately now.”

According to coaches and other insiders who spoke to the AP, the fact that Black men ended up as the fall guys shouldn’t come as a surprise “given how careers in sports usually unfold along racial lines.”

Between 2014 and 2023, “[a]n AP analysis of schools in the six biggest basketball conferences found the ranks of Black assistant coaches have” only risen eight percentage points, going from 51% to 59%. In addition, only 30% of head coach positions are filled by Black men. And “[o]thers believe that while opportunities have expanded for African-Americans, they are still the lower-paid, higher-risk jobs in the ‘talent-acquisition’ part of the game that’s rife with turnover and shadowy dealmaking — and landed Richardson and others in jail.”

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