Former Adidas exec on trial to claim he broke NCAA rules, not laws, and that's bad news for lots of college basketball teams

Jim Gatto is not going to deny he did what he's accused of doing. That became clear Tuesday afternoon during opening statements of a trial in which he's charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

"NCAA rules were broken," Casey Donnelly, Gatto's attorney, reportedly said in a courtroom on the 26th floor of a federal building in lower Manhattan. "We are not going to waste your time pretending these families did not get funds."

Nope.

Instead, what Gatto is going to do is acknowledge he's guilty of committing major NCAA rules violations. Did the former Adidas executive agree to send $100,000 to five-star prospect Brian Bowen's family in exchange for him enrolling at Louisville, which is a so-called Adidas school? Yes, Gatto says. Did he pay $40,000 to the family of Dennis Smith while the one-and-done star was at NC State, which is another Adidas school? Yes, Gatto says. Did he provide $20,000 to Silvio De Sousa, who is now enrolled at Kansas, which is another Adidas school? Yes, Gatto says.

"Jim Gatto broke NCAA rules," Donnelly said. "NCAA rules are not laws."

Whether that's true or not, for these purposes, will ultimately be decided in the coming weeks by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in the Southern District of New York -- plus a jury of Gatto's peers. But, either way, we now know that's the defense. The prosecution is arguing Gatto defrauded multiple schools by committing NCAA violations that made student-athletes ineligible under NCAA bylaws. Gatto is countering with a very reasonable response that's more or less this: "Yes, I used money to get prospects to enroll at certain schools. But I didn't defraud any school. All I did was help schools -- largely at their request. And if I didn't defraud any schools, I didn't commit a crime. Period. End of story."

It's a fascinating, if not unexpected, defense. And there are plenty of smart legal minds who believe it'll work. Again, time will tell. But the most interesting part of this trial might not be whether a former shoe company executive barely anybody outside of basketball knew 13 months ago is convicted of federal crimes and sentenced to federal prison. Rather, the most interesting part of this trial might end up being the collateral damage Gatto's attorneys cause while trying to show college basketball is a cesspool filled with people willingly cheating in an attempt to secure the services of some of the nation's best basketball prospects.

According to Donnelly, Gatto only agreed to pay Bowen's family $100,000 after Oregon offered an "astronomical amount of money" for Bowen first. Gatto was, she said, just trying to "level the playing field." So now Oregon has been roped into this scandal. And Ducks coach Dana Altman might not sleep well Tuesday night. According to Donnelly, Gatto only paid De Sousa $20,000 to go to Kansas to offset the $20,000 Under Armour had already paid De Sousa to go to Maryland. So now De Sousa's eligibility seems to be in a less-than-ideal place. And, according to Donnelly, Arizona offered $150,000 for McDonald's All-American Nassir Little. So Wildcats coach Sean Miller might have more questions to answer about how his program has been recruiting at a high level all these years.

And this was just the opening statement!

Imagine what might be said when Bowen's father takes the stand. Will he testify that Rick Pitino knew or didn't know about the $100,000 deal for his son? Imagine what might be said when Gatto's righthand man, T.J. Gassnola, takes the stand. Will he implicate Kansas coach Bill Self, former NC State coach Mark Gottfried or anybody else in any wrongdoing?

Simply put, that's the real story here.

What happens to Jim Gatto mostly doesn't matter to anybody except Gatto and his family. But the collateral damage caused along the way? Yeah, that could be interesting -- and, for some of the biggest names in college basketball, damaging beyond repair.

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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