Michigan State will play at Wisconsin on Sunday in its regular season finale with a chance to win the program’s first outright Big Ten title since 2009.
Whether Michigan State will play its best player in that game, or in the subsequent Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, is suddenly an open question.
Yahoo! reported on Friday morning that the expense report of an associate for a sports agent includes the listing of a $400 “advance” paid to the mother of Miles Bridges. That document was uncovered as part of a wide-ranging FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball.
NCAA rules prohibit athletes or their family members from accepting money from agents. If the NCAA eventually rules that Bridges’ family accepted money from an agent, its bylaws state that he will be ruled ineligible and any games he played in will be forfeited.
Barbara Osborne, a professor of sport administration at North Carolina, said schools faced with similar situations have taken different paths. Some have suspended players following media reports alleging impermissible benefits. Others have chosen to continue to play the named players while the NCAA investigative process plays out.
“Schools go both ways on those things,” Osborne said. “The school would probably be prudent to launch their own investigation right now.”
Glenn Wong, a sports lawyer and professor at Arizona State, said schools like Michigan State could declare players ineligible and then apply for reinstatement from the NCAA.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo released a statement on Friday afternoon saying that he had “no reason to believe” any Michigan State coach or player had violated NCAA rules. The report did not clarify the playing status of Bridges.
Osborne noted that the relatively small amount of the alleged payment to Bridges’ family, $470, could factor into any NCAA case.
According to reinstatement guidelines published by the NCAA, extra benefits of between $300 and $500 from an agent result call for a suspension of 30 percent of the player’s season, plus a repayment of the extra benefits.
Michigan State has played 30 games to date, making a 30 percent suspension consist of nine games. The most Michigan State can play is 10 more games, if it were to advance to the championship games of the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA Tournament. Under those guidelines, the earliest Bridges would be available is the NCAA championship game.
David Ridpath, an Ohio University professor and former compliance officer, said he would consider suspending Bridges through the Big Ten tournament to show the NCAA that the school is being proactive.
“I imagine that Michigan State’s having these conversations,” Ridpath said. “They’re going to have to make that decision.”
In a statement on Friday afternoon, Michigan State interim athletic director Bill Beekman said the school has already proactively reached out to the NCAA and Big Ten.
Both Osborne and Ridpath said the NCAA will likely need more corroborating evidence to prove that Bridges’ family received an impermissible benefit.
A key difference between this case and several other impermissible benefits cases is the FBI’s involvement. The NCAA can use publicly available information from law enforcement in making a case that a school violated its rules, but must be careful to still stay within its own enforcement process, Osborne said..
“The NCAA would be well-served to follow its own process in order to make things fair,” Osborne said.
Even before the Friday report, Wong said that the FBI investigation “was shaping up to be perhaps the NCAA’s toughest enforcement challenge in its history.” And decisions on enforcement may be a long time coming.