Should USC Basketball let De’Anthony Melton play?

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

With new evidence contradicting the FBI’s claims of improper benefits funneled towards De’Anthony Melton, should USC Basketball reinstate the sophomore guard?

On Tuesday night, the LA Times dropped a bit of a bombshell relating to USC Basketball’s suspension of sophomore guard De’Anthony Melton: What the FBI says happened may not have actually happened.

The FBI probe which resulted in the arrest of USC assistant coach Tony Bland and implicated Melton included an allegation that, at a particular meeting in August, a family friend of Melton’s received a cash payment facilitated by Bland.

According to surveillance video from the hotel lobby, viewed by Nathan Fenno of the LA Times, the family friend, Dave Elliott, did not actually receive anything. Only would-be agent Christian Dawkins, accompanied by financial adviser Munish Sood, handled the alleged payment.

Here’s the account as told by the Times report:

"As other customers eat lunch or relax at the nearby bar, the undercover agent places a light-colored envelope in front of Elliott on the table. Elliott doesn’t touch the envelope. Less than a minute later, at 2:16 p.m., the undercover agent leaves with Sood. More than an hour later — after Elliott finishes his meal and signals a waiter for the check — the video shows Dawkins reaching across the table, grabbing the envelope with his right hand and stuffing it in his back pocket."

At no point in the video did Elliott take possession of the envelope, per the Times. Dawkins and Sood left together, with the envelop clearly visible in their vehicle. Elliott denies taking money.

Melton now has a couple of factors working in his favor.

The first is that, per his attorney as reported by the Times, he has been cleared of wrongdoing in connection with the FBI investigation.

The second is this new evidence which casts doubt on the allegation that someone close to him took money for his benefit. The FBI’s claim of money exchanged was limited to that specific meeting. There is no evidence to show Elliott took cash at a later date.

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The third is Melton’s consistent claim of innocence, and the difficulty to prove that the player was aware of any payments taken on his behalf in the first place.

The question now is whether or not USC will feel assured enough in Melton’s future eligibility to risk playing him now.

Unfortunately for Melton, Andy Enfield and the entire Trojan team, that doesn’t seem likely. Melton’s attorney was quoted by the Times saying, “They’re not going to budge until someone tells them they’re not going to forfeit games.”

USC’s caution in holding out Melton while an investigation continues is understandable. If the Trojans let him play and the NCAA determines that he was ineligible, the program would have to forfeit games or worse.

At some point, USC will have to make a bold decision to declare Melton status, whether eligible or ineligible. At this stage, the evidence stacks up to support eligibility. It would seem USC has what they need to clear the guard.

Due-diligence is important, but there should also be a sense of urgency to resolve the issue one way or another.

Waiting for a definitive assurance from the NCAA in a timely manner is folly.

Melton isn’t the only player feeling the sting of inaction by his university.

Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy tweeted, “I’m starting to feel mistreated,” expressing frustration that he had yet to be cleared. Teammate Ausin Wiley is also being held off the court for the time being while the Tigers sort through their eligibility after being implicated in the FBI’s bribery probe.

Louisville suspended freshman Brian Bowen for the season for his alleged involvement in the scheme.

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However, at Oklahoma State, guard Jeffrey Carroll was cleared to play last week after being held out of the first three games of the season.

On Saturday, USC will take on SMU, looking to bounce back after a loss to Texas A&M at the Galen Center.