State's NCAA Infractions Case Recommended to Independent Panel

Brett Friedlander

There’s been another plot twist in the NCAA infractions case against former NC State basketball player Dennis Smith Jr.

Instead of being decided by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions as most such cases in the past, the case has been recommended to be heard a panel of independent investigators as part of the governing body’s new Independent Accountability Resolution Process.

Established in 2018 on the recommendation of a committee chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice, the process is designed to handle complex cases such as those linked to the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption by Adidas operatives.

“We have been notified that our case has been recommended for the Independent Accountability Resolution Process,” State spokesman Fred Demarest said Friday, adding that the school response to the NCAA’s latest decision is due on April 14. “We are reviewing and evaluating our options.”

State received an NCAA Notice of Allegations last July accusing then-coach Mark Gottfried and his program of two major violations in connection with Smith’s recruitment.

The star point guard, who played only one season for the Wolfpack, is alleged to have received $40,000 from former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola.

Gassnola testified during a federal trial in New York last year that he funneled the money to Smith’s “handlers” in exchange for steering the future first round NBA draft pick to State.

But school officials, in a 60-page response submitted in February, informed the NCAA that State “strenuously disputes and is contesting” the most serious charge against it.

Although Smith averaged 18.1 points per game and was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, State went just 15-17 (4-14 in conference play) in his only college season. The Fayetteville native was taken by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NBA draft and now plays for the New York Knicks.

Last summer, Smith was one of six college players named by federal prosecutors in the case against several Adidas officials convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for funneling illegal payments to the players in return for them attending Adidas sponsored schools.

Former Wolfpack assistant Orlando Early was accused by the NCAA of being the middleman in the $40,000 payment to Smith. Gottfried, who is now the coach at Cal State Northridge, is charged with a “failure to monitor” Early’s actions in Smith’s recruitment.

Both coaches were fired by State before the allegations came to light and the university has taken steps to distance itself from them.

The case against State was scheduled to be heard by the Committee on Infractions as some point this year, but was put into limbo when the NCAA suspended all its activity last month because of the coronavirus crisis.

If the case is accepted into the independent process once normal operations resume. it would be handled by a 15-member review board comprised of members not affiliated with any NCAA school or the organization’s enforcement staff.

According to the NCAA’s official website, decisions issued by the Independent Resolution Panel are final and are not subject to appeal or further review.