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AP photo by Craig Ruttle / California attorney Michael Avenatti makes a statement on July 23, 2019, as he leaves a courthouse in New York.

The 2020 NCAA men's basketball tournament bracket will be announced March 15.

Thanks to his Friday conviction on felony charges of transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and honest services wire fraud, sleazebag attorney Michael Avenatti will have to watch the selection show, if allowed, from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City, where he is awaiting his June 17 sentencing from U.S. District Court Judge Paul G. Gardephe.

What's the connection between the NCAA tourney and Avenatti?

If you believe ESPN analyst "Joey Brackets" Lunardi's latest predictions, that 68-team field will include Arizona and Oregon, which were both somewhat at the center of Avenatti's attempted shakedown of shoe giant Nike.

Avenatti has alleged since last summer that Nike paid thousands of dollars to those close to former Arizona center Deandre Ayton and former Oregon post player Bol Bol in order to guarantee they would sign with the Wildcats and Ducks, respectively.

Unfortunately for him, rather than alert the proper authorities, he decided to attempt to blackmail Nike for as much as $25 million. When Nike called his bluff and reached out to those same authorities, Avenatti was in a heap of legal trouble of his own making.

This is in no way meant to suggest that Avenatti — whose 15 minutes of shame began as the result of his representation of porn star Stormy Daniels regarding her alleged affair with President Donald Trump — shouldn't be in jail.

It is to suggest that you shouldn't necessarily ignore the message just because the messenger is a maggot of major proportions.

We are now nearly 27 months removed from the initial news that the FBI had arrested one assistant coach each from Oklahoma State, Arizona, Auburn and Southern Cal following the federal government's three-year investigation into the sport. Most of that investigation centered on fairly large amounts of money being funneled from shoe companies through assistant coaches, youth coaches and street agents to high-profile recruits. All four coaches — including former Auburn playing great and assistant Chuck Person — later pleaded guilt to felony bribery charges.

In the ensuing months and years the NCAA reportedly has sent notices of allegations to Kansas, North Carolina State, Texas Christian, Southern California and South Carolina, as well as Oklahoma State. Also believed to be under investigation are Auburn, Creighton, Louisville and LSU.

But to look at Lunardi's most recent bracketology projections regarding the upcoming NCAA tourney is to see a respectable number of those schools not only in the field, but seeded highly.

If Selection Sunday were now instead of a month away, Lunardi projects Kansas to be a No. 1 seed, Louisville a No. 2 (at least before Saturday's loss at Clemson), Auburn a No. 3, Creighton and Oregon both No. 5 seeds, Arizona a 6, LSU a 7 and Southern California a 10.

And while Kansas is a legitimate threat to win it all this year, the Jayhawks program has been linked to so many violations that you wonder if all those bricks in the Wizard of Oz's yellow brick road haven't been doled out to players under current coach Bill Self.

But where are the NCAA's investigators in all this? How is it possible that all these schools could make deep NCAA tourney runs, then, at least theoretically, have them erased, much as the NCAA previously stripped Louisville of its 2013 national championship for using strippers at recruiting parties inside the school's athletic dorm?

Why has not a single school been placed on probation in those 27 months?

Again, Avenatti's a bum. He's reportedly more than $11 million in debt and under two other federal investigations for allegedly stealing Daniels' $300,000 book advance concerning her and Trump, as well as swindling millions of dollars from other clients.

But that doesn't mean his allegations regarding Nike are wrong. Even Nike admitted during the trial that it had received a federal grand jury subpoena from the U.S. Department of Justice and two other subpoenas from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission regarding corruption in grassroots basketball.

In fact, Nike never really has appeared to deny Avenatti's accusations as much it has painted him as a blackmailer, which, of course, he was.

So here we are four weeks from the start of March Madness and at least eight schools expected to be in the NCAA tourney field are being investigated for serious violations, but with little evidence that the NCAA has any interest in getting to the bottom of any of this.

When the Avenatti verdict came down Friday, Nike smugly surmised, "The verdict speaks volumes."

True. But so do the current NCAA tourney projections for those eight programs reportedly under investigation. And that message, at least until proven otherwise, is that when it comes to college basketball success, crime pays.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

 

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