Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth didn’t break out in a cold sweat when details emerged from an FBI investigation that resulted in the arrest of 10, including four Division I assistant basketball coaches, for fraud and corruption.
Roth acknowledged that if the allegations are proven true it is a “dark day” for college basketball, but he’s optimistic the vast majority of programs follow the rules. He believes that includes Gonzaga, which has been a national power for two decades.
“I’m very confident,” Roth said of Gonzaga’s adherence to the rules. “That doesn’t mean I won’t have discussions with my staff again. One thing we do have is a staff that has been with us a very long time and we’re very careful in what we do.
“It’s the one thing that can be the most damaging to us at a place like Gonzaga is any type of scandal. That’s worse than not winning. We’ve had those discussions internally.”
The news Tuesday morning rocked college basketball and left many wondering how many programs and coaches would eventually be linked to the scandal. The three-year investigation is ongoing and the FBI has established a tip line.
“If you yourself engaged in these activities, I’d encourage you to call us,” Prosecutor Joon Kim, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference. “I think it’s better than us calling you.”
Ten men, including assistant coaches, financial advisers, former NBA agents and representatives of Adidas, were arrested. Kim described the high stakes, up to $100,000 in one case, involved in steering elite recruits to certain schools in exchange for those players building relationships with specific advisers, agents and shoe companies.
Roth said the FBI’s involvement “takes it beyond an NCAA-related issue. This is serious stuff.”
Roth expects there to be intense scrutiny at schools across the country. He said most top-tier programs already deal with that to some degree by being in the national limelight.
“I’m very confident in our staff, otherwise they wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we won’t have discussions. But the good part with knowing our staff as well as I do, I didn’t read that information and all of sudden break out in a cold sweat. I don’t have that fear at all, I just need to make sure I’ve done my due diligence.”
Gonzaga’s approach to recruiting isn’t quite the same as most Top 25 programs. The Zags obviously recruit top 100 players – the current roster includes former ESPN.com Top 100 players Josh Perkins and Zach Norvell Jr. – and they’ve had increasing success in the last decade as the program established itself on a national level.
Zach Collins, a standout on last year’s team, became GU’s first one-and-done, but his rapid rise to NBA lottery pick was a surprise to most, even Collins. He has admitted as much in several interviews.
Some of GU’s most prominent players in recent seasons have been international players (Przemek Karnowski, Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk, Rob Sacre, Domantas Sabonis, Elias Harris) or those transferring in from four-year schools (Kyle Wiltjer, Jordan Mathews, Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams).
The Zags’ current roster includes Rui Hachimura (Japan), Jacob Larsen (Denmark) and Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi (both from France).
“I get the sense it’s not even close to what we deal with over here, a completely different culture,” Roth said.
Roth said Gonzaga reports the school’s secondary violations to the NCAA and also to GU trustees at board meetings. He said coaches from a particular sport usually first approach the compliance office to report the transgression.
“It’s a huge rule book and sometimes those things happen,” Roth said. “The NCAA wants you to do those things because it shows you’re monitoring and paying attention and discovering things that take place.”
Roth planned on talking to head coach Mark Few, who is reportedly recruiting in Florida. The athletic director said Gonzaga tries to be proactive when it comes to following NCAA recruiting rules.
“We can’t hope, we have to work at it,” Roth said. “We educate our staff all the time to go over new and existing legislation. At the end of the day, you have to have people you can trust that they’re going to maintain integrity in your program, the department and the university. If those people are in place, you’ll sleep a lot better tonight.”