Maryland (Sort Of) Dragged into FBI Probe

Last week, federal prosecutors expanded their ongoing investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting to include former recruits connected to NC State and Kansas. And while this story managed to reinvigorate interest in college basketball in general, Maryland fans in particular should take note.

The player connected to Kansas was in all likelihood Silvio De Souza, and as Matt Norlander at CBS pointed out, this could implicate Maryland in the ongoing investigation and scandal. For those unfamiliar with De Souza’s recruiting saga, nearly all recruiting analysts expected De Souza to choose Maryland. De Souza is best friends with Bruno Fernando, who had already committed to Maryland, and the two teammates and best friends were expected to play together in College Park. When De Souza committed to Kansas it came as a major surprise to everybody following the story.

In a superseding indictment filed last Tuesday, the FBI suggested  that De Souza’s legal guardian accepted a payment from Under Armor to attend an Under Armor affiliated school (Maryland). When De Souza chose to sign with Kansas, an adidas school, an adidas official gave De Souza’s legal guardian money to pay back to Under Armor.

The connection to Under Armor and Maryland serves only as a plot point in the FBI’s narrative, so it is unlikely that the Terrapins will face any punishment or sanction. That said, this is another reminder that it could easily be Maryland facing the FBI and NCAA. The FBI happened to focus its energies on adidas, but they could just as easily have honed in on Nike, Under Armor, or Jumpman. And if the FBI had investigated Under Armor, the Terrapins could be in the same place Kansas and NC State are now.

To be clear, this is not a suggestion that Mark Turgeon has ever conducted dirty recruiting. It is simply an acknowledgment that for the second time in two months Maryland has been tenuously connected to recruiting violations and the FBI corruption probe.

On February 21st, a Yahoo report suggested that Diamond Stone received $14,000 of improper benefits while he played at Maryland. Coach Turgeon vehemently denied the allegation, but just like De Souza’s commitment to Kansas, Stone’s commitment raised some eyebrows among recruitment analysts when he chose Maryland over Wisconsin, his in-state option. Turgeon has been open in the past about the ways Maryland’s partnership with Under Armor work to his advantage on the recruiting trail, but until this year there was no reason to assume the partnership violated any NCAA rules or federal laws.

Looking forward, there will need to be a concrete connection between Maryland and dirty recruitment before these whispers evolve into accusations. Tangential mentions linking Maryland to the ongoing scandals are not great for the Terps, particularly while coach Turgeon is aggressively recruiting players, but the NCAA will not levy any sanctions as long as the links do not materialize into hard evidence of rules violations.  

The only way for this to blow up in Maryland’s face would be for De Souza’s guardian to testify on behalf of the FBI against the shoe companies, name-drop Under Armor and Maryland specifically, and suggest that Maryland was complicit in the Under Armor Payments. Given that De Souza’s guardian has denied all allegations of wrongdoing, Terps fans do not need to worry.