|Because the University of San Diego was tied into game-fixing, SDSU caught the FBI's eye as well. (US Presswire)|
How does a team look to throw games when finishing with a 34-3 record in the midst of an unprecedented season?
In short, it doesn't. But the FBI doesn't deal in probabilities. And because the University of San Diego was infected with a drug/game-fixing issue nearly two years ago, San Diego State also got lumped in with the investigation. It wasn't until recently that this facet of the FBI's inspection became publicly known. Let's remember, this is San Diego State we're now talking about, not the University of San Diego, which yes did come under a game-fixing scandal more than a year ago.
Unbeknownst to the school, its head coach or anyone in the athletic department, the 2010-11 historic San Diego State team was tracked throughout its season. There was belief the fix could've been in, however rarely SDSU lost or blew a line it was favored on.
But the feds found zilch.
The San Diego case recently saw three men plead guilty to bribing San Diego's best player and all-time leading scorer, Brandon Johnson, to fixing games. One of the 10 men connected with the case, former Toreros assistant T.J. Brown, was found to have contacted five San Diego State players in the fall of 2010. Phone records showed multiple calls to SDSU players.
That raised eyebrows.
But, again, nothing was found. A visible amount of smoke but no means to make a fire here. And thank goodness for that. Few things could hurt the sport's reputation like another game-fixing scandal. (I'm of the belief this nefarious behavior happens very rarely, and when it does, it's in isolated incidents.)
Mark Ziegler of the San Diego Union-Tribune with more on how the Aztecs were tracked -- off the floor:
Physical and electronic surveillance, GPS tracking devices on cars, phone logs, infiltration of the team by an undercover agent, even recruitment of a player to be a confidential informant — all were discussed or enacted by the FBI during SDSU's historic 2010-11 season.
And in the hours after the 10 defendants in the USD case were arrested in April 2011, federal agents interviewed several SDSU players. But none was indicted because federal authorities don't think they did anything wrong.
“I had the opportunity to review all the discovery in the case,” said Michael Berg, who represented Steve Goria, the leader of the conspiracy, before Goria switched attorneys. “There is absolutely nothing to tie any current or former player from SDSU to any point shaving or game fixing. To say otherwise is not only wrong, it's slanderous.”
Fixing SDSU games was a “pipe dream,” said attorney Vikas Bajaj, who initially represented T.J. Brown, a former USD assistant coach. “Otherwise, there would have been arrests.”
The probing lasted through February of 2011, according to the Union-Tribune. The newspaper's story gets interesting with its uncovering of records that show Goria and Brown swapping texts. The exchanges leave nothing to interpret.
Check it out. This was the text message conversation between the two after SDSU lost its first game -- the 21st of its season -- against BYU, which included this awesome shot of Jimmer Fredette.
At 9:04 p.m. that night, according to an intercepted message on a wiretapped cellphone, Goria texts Brown: “Now we can do something that they lost.”
Twelve minutes later, Brown responded: “For sure. Done deal.”
Two days later, Brown said in another text to Goria that he was “working on sdsu for next week.”
The affidavits are unclear whether Brown approached Aztecs players about fixing a game or was merely calling them because he knew them as part of the city's college basketball community. Brown worked as an assistant manager at the Gaslamp Quarter club, and several SDSU player were involved in a fight there in November 2010.
“Brown's contacts with SDSU players could be related to sports bribery,” one affidavit said, “however the contacts could very well also be innocent in nature.”
Another said: “At this time, we are unaware of any social relationships or innocent basis for these five players to have contact with Brown.”
The USD aspect of the case is still ongoing, so all leads and details regarding the Toreros are still subject to confidentiality; there are still men associated/charged in the case who've yet to have their day in court. But SDSU is now in the clear, and has been for more than a year. Still, to see this news even more than a year later, it's a bit jarring.
We don't definitively know if and who approached any one Aztec about tossing a game or jiggering with a line, but if it happened, it seems the advance was turned down. It's cynical to think about, but that alone makes the story of the 2010-11 SDSU team more impressive and refreshing, if in fact the attempts at cheating got to that point.