ESPN’s 30 For 30 Podcasts “The Bag Game” Podcast Available Now
Podcast Documents Impact of College Basketball’s Biggest Pay-to-Play Scandal
30 for 30 Podcasts debuts all four episodes of its captivating next installment “The Bag Game” today, April 18. The audio documentary, hosted by ESPN investigative reporter Paula Lavigne, goes in-depth on the sprawling criminal case that rocked college basketball through the story of Billy Preston, a 5-star recruit to Kansas who was poised for the NBA. Before he ever played a regular season game for the Jayhawks, a minor car accident in 2017 set Billy on a different course. He got benched due to NCAA eligibility questions, tying into a years-long undercover federal investigation.
In 2018, prosecutors brought fraud and other criminal charges against assistant coaches, apparel executives, an aspiring sports business manager and more. Three defendants were convicted at trial of scheming to pay young players like Billy Preston or their families, ruining their NCAA eligibility. But no college head coaches were charged. What did it reveal about the system? And what did it change? Lavigne has been on the reporting team covering this story for more than five years, and tells the tale with exclusive interviews, wiretap recordings, firsthand accounts and court testimony. As today’s college athletes navigate a new world that allows them to earn money from their talents, “The Bag Game” sheds new light on the reality for previous generations. For decades, under-the-table pay-to-play in youth and college basketball was an open secret that defined many lives on and off the court.
Said Lavigne: “The Bag Game is the first in-depth look at how this investigation affected the athletes themselves and how players like Billy Preston got caught in the crosshairs of a controversial system, and it offers a rare insight from federal prosecutors as they explain why they went after the people they did and – more vital for many critics – why they didn’t pursue others.”
30 for 30 Podcasts can be found on the ESPN App, Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, iHeart, Spotify, TuneIn, SiriusXM, Pandora and wherever podcasts are available. All four episodes of “The Bag Game” are now available for fans to binge-listen. The episode lineup includes:
Episode 1: The Making of Billy Preston
In his early years, Billy and his mother Nichole struggle to get by in L.A. An active kid, Billy finds basketball through his mom’s new partner, T.K., a high school coach who’d also made it to the pros as a player. Billy’s star rises in youth leagues. He generates buzz as an NBA prospect, with top colleges recruiting him, and his family pulls out all the stops to support his dream.
Episode 2: Nichole and the Bag Man
Billy’s mom Nichole let her son focus on his game. Meanwhile she fielded all the onlookers who wanted Billy on their team. To play for a top college program, Billy couldn’t accept any money, or he’d ruin his eligibility. Yet offers to circumvent that abound: aka, the bag game. In the college recruitment dance, Billy gets his top pick and Nichole makes a connection that promises to secure the family’s finances. But Billy’s dream is short-lived. And Nichole’s dealings later get federal investigators’ attention.
Episode 3: The Sting
The NCAA’s rules on amateurism kept colleges from paying players like Billy to get them to attend a certain school. But we learn how the youth teams delivering top recruits could serve as a go-between, where influence could be peddled. We hear one youth coach in Florida court much-needed funding from big-time shoe companies, only to land in hot water for what he promises in return. He didn’t know he was being recorded. The bag game unravels, as the feds’ secret investigation comes to light.
Episode 4: Plausible Deniability
Federal prosecutors make their case public and tell the college sports world, “We have your playbook.” Details come out on secret payments. Who made them and to whose benefit? Who received the money? Who was the victim of all this and what, exactly, was the crime? After a stint playing overseas, Billy returns for the NBA draft. His name and the Kansas program have been swept into the case. Sentences come down for defendants. Billy and Nichole don’t face charges, but feel the impact of the fallout.
About 30 for 30 Podcasts
30 for 30 Podcasts, from ESPN Films and ESPN Audio, are original audio documentaries from the makers of the acclaimed 30 for 30 film series. Telling sports stories like you’ve never heard before, through a combination of original reporting and archival sound, 30 for 30 Podcasts goes beyond the field to explore how sports, competition, athleticism and adventure affect our lives and our world. The series has been recognized by the NYF International Radio Awards, the Webby Awards, and the RTDNA Kaleidoscope Awards; as well as inclusion on numerous “best-of” lists from press outlets such as The Atlantic, Vulture, TIME and Entertainment Weekly. Episodes have been featured on NPR, 99% Invisible, Slate Podcasts and have been developed for scripted television. For more visit 30for30podcasts.com.