A major men’s college basketball program received two years’ probation Thursday over former associate head coach Tony Bland’s involvement in a national bribery scandal.
Bland, an assistant coach at San Diego State University from 2009 to 2013, left for a similar assistant coaching role at USC.
He landed in hot water, though in Los Angeles, where he was one of four college assistant basketball coaches named in a 2017 indictment that revealed a fraud and corruption scheme.
Federal prosecutors in New York said Bland accepted at least $13,000 in bribes from a pair of “athlete advisers” between June and September 2017. Bland took the money to influence players to hire the advisers when they begin playing in the NBA.
Prosecutors contended that Bland told the advisers, “I definitely can get the players. … And I can definitely mold the players and put them in the lap of you guys.”
USC immediately placed Bland on administrative leave when the allegations surfaced, then fired him in January 2018.
Bland pleaded guilty in a year later to conspiracy to commit bribery, admitting he received a $4,100 bribe. He was sentenced to two years probation.
The NCAA’s punishment in response to Bland’s actions spared USC potentially severe penalties that could have included a ban on post-season play.
In its ruling Thursday, the NCAA stated, “The associate head coach demonstrated a recurring lack of judgment that resulted in unethical conduct and representation violations for both himself and USC. Although (Bland’s) behavior may have originated out of friendship with the agent associate, it waded into murky ethical waters and ultimately intersected with the agent associate’s corruption scheme within college basketball.”
The university was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and 1% of the men’s basketball program budget. The NCAA also accepted USC’s self-imposed penalties – reducing basketball scholarships by two during the 2018-19 academic year, reducing official basketball visits over a two-season period and a reduction in recruiting days.
Bland was also placed under a three-year “show-cause order,” which means that any school employing him “must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.”
The NCAA noted that Bland cooperated in the investigation, and the university itself “displayed exemplary cooperation.”
Bland, whose duties for the Aztecs included recruiting players, helped coach the Aztecs to the NCAA Tournament during all four of his years as an assistant. That included their first-ever run to the Sweet 16 in the 2011 tournament.
The scandal also ensnared basketball staff from Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State.