A guinea pig? Why NC State is the first to go through the NCAA’s reformed process.

The NCAA has tweaked its rules and changed its investigative process in the wake of a federal investigation and trials into college basketball corruption.

N.C. State, which released the Notice of Allegations it received from the NCAA on Wednesday, will be the first school to go through the remodeled NCAA wringer.

Why is N.C. State, and not one of the bigger national-brand programs, going first?

Stuart Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who has handled NCAA cases for schools, coaches and athletes for 20 years, has a theory.

“The lowest-hanging fruit to come out of the first Adidas trial was the circumstances surrounding N.C. State,” Brown told The News & Observer on Thursday. “It is the simplest case to import, as the (NCAA) enforcement staff is now allowed to do from direct testimony from the trial.”

An NCAA executive said last month that “at least six” major Division I programs will receive an NOA from the NCAA this summer. Kansas, Arizona, LSU, Louisville, Miami, Auburn and Southern California are among the other schools who were involved, or mentioned, in the federal fraud and bribery trials in New York.

With that many cases expected to follow, N.C. State’s also gives the NCAA the best chance at starting off with a win, Brown said.

“To put it in basketball terms, the N.C. State case is more of a layup for the enforcement staff than the other potential cases,” Brown said.

The NCAA amended its rules in Aug. 2018 so that it “can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law, government agency, accrediting body or a commission authorized by a school.” Previously, the NCAA had to conduct its own investigations and wouldn’t have been able to use the information from the trial.

So, the NCAA can use the information from the federal fraud case against former Adidas executive Jim Gatto.

The NCAA outlined four potential violations in the NOA, two are of the major variety and specific to former coaches Orlando Early and Mark Gottfried. The primary, and potentially most damaging violations, are all connected to the recruitment, and brief tenure, of the basketball star Dennis Smith Jr.

The NOA, which N.C. State received on Tuesday, cites the testimony former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola during Gatto’s trial in federal court in New York in October. Gassnola testified that he provided a $40,000 payment to Smith’s family during the recruiting process in 2015 and that Early was involved in the delivery of that money.

Smith was a highly-rated recruit out of Fayetteville and chose N.C. State over other national powers. Paying a recruit is obviously against NCAA rules. Specifically in the NOA, Early “showed reckless indifference to the NCAA constitution and bylaws” and “threatened the integrity of the NCAA Collegiate Model.”

That the two “Level I” violations are connected to former coaches, is also not a coincidence. After the FBI had made its corruption case public nearly 22 months ago, the NCAA formed a commission, headed by Condoleezza Rice.

In April, the Rice Commission report suggested reforms and rule changes. Chief among them: “(S)ignificant expansion in individual accountability for rules violations for coaches, athletic directors and college presidents.”

In N.C. State’s case, Early and Gottfried are the target of the most severe punishment. In Early’s case, it’s for the impermissible benefits provided to Smith during his recruitment and after — more than $6,600 in complimentary tickets were provided to Smith’s friends and family.

In Gottfried’s case, it’s for a failure to monitor Early. Specifically in the NOA, Gottfried “did not demonstrate that he monitored” Early or Early’s interactions with Gassnola or Smith during the recruiting process.

The NCAA also said Gottfried was responsible to monitor his staff and the provision of complimentary tickets. The potential punishment for both Early and Gottfried is a “show-cause” order, which is the most severe penalty the NCAA can give a coach.

Early has been out of college coaching since Gottfried was fired during the 2016-17 season and worked as a scout for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies last season. Gottfried was hired by Cal State-Northridge last season.

The NCAA connected N.C. State to two Level II violations: one for the distribution of the excessive complimentary to Smith’s family and friends and another for the failure to monitor the ticket distribution.

The NCAA cited 150 complimentary ticket violations connected to Smith during the 2016-17 season and another 14 during the 2015-16 season connected to three other players.

N.C. State, in a statement released by the school on Wednesday, was quick to point that “all four allegations are tied to former coaches who were well educated about the rules and knew the rules, and if the allegations are true, those coaches chose to break the rules.”

New N.C. State athletic director Boo Corrigan, who was hired from Army West Point in January and replaced former AD Debbie Yow in May, posted a statement on Twitter on Thursday which noted that none of the current basketball coaches, or players, were involved in any of the allegations.

“As a University, we are being transparent in acknowledging our NOA, we will be accountable where necessary but also vigorously defend our program where needed,” Corrigan wrote.

“It is important to point out, the allegations involve no one on our current coaching staff and we will make every effort to support Coach Keatts, the student-athletes and staff of our men’s basketball program in achieving their long-term goals.”

N.C. State has 90 days to reply to the NCAA and will eventually meet with the Committee on Infractions.

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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