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Former USC assistant basketball coach Tony Bland pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery for accepting cash to steer his players to specific agents and financial advisors. "I knowingly and willfully conspired with others to commit federal funds bribery," Bland told a federal judge in New York on Wednesday. "I knew that my conduct was wrong."
Bland's plea is the first of four indicted college basketball coaches targeted in a massive corruption scandal that has rocked the sport.
Bland admitted to accepting $4,100 during a meeting in Las Vegas, with the promise to deliver clients to certain financial advisers and business managers. "I definitely can get the players," Bland promised on a recorded provided by an undercover FBI agent. "And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys."
NCAA coaches are prohibited from receiving compensation from outside sources, and prosecutors allege that agents, "runners," coaches, and shoe executives all conspired to funnel money from shoe companies and agencies to coaches and players in return for clients.
Former Auburn assistant coach Chuck Person, former Arizona assistant Emanuel Richardson, and former Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans have also been charged in the corruption crackdown and are facing trial this year. James Gatto, Adidas' director of global sports marketing for basketball, Merl Code, who reportedly has ties to both Adidas and Nike, and Jonathan Brad Augustine, allegedly affiliated with Adidas, have also been charged in the bribery probe, along with financial and investment advisers Christian Dawkins, Rashan Michel, and Munish Sood.
As for Bland, he originally faced up to 80 years in prison for six charges, but his plea to a single count makes it likely he will spend little or no time in prison. He will also be forced to forfeit his relatively small bribery gains after he is sentenced in April.