The NCAA is coming for the neck of Kansas basketball, and Kansas basketball is fighting back.
On Monday, the Committee on Infractions sent Kansas their Notice of Allegations detailing a significant amount of cheating perpetrated by the Jayhawks. It included three separate Level I violations, a head coach responsibility charge against Bill Self and a lack of institutional control charge levied at the athletic department.
All of the violations stem directly from the testimony and evidence provided by former adidas bagman T.J. Gassnola at the college basketball corruption trials in the last 12 months, and it’s enough that the future of the Kansas basketball program can legitimately be in doubt. Postseason bans are in the cards. Show-cause orders for Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend, which they can coach under, seem to be the goal. The NCAA can suspended Self as well.
If they pile up enough punishments on his plate, will this be what finally gets Self to head to the NBA? And if he leaves, who is going to take over a program that could be heading into a five-year postseason ban, regardless of how blue the blood is?
However you slice it, there seems to be little doubt that the NCAA is going to try and make an example out of Kansas.
And that is precisely … Bill Self’s defense?
“By the NCAA’s own admission through its public statements early this summer, it’s no secret that there is tremendous pressure on the NCAA to respond to the federal court proceedings involving college basketball,” read a statement Self released late on Monday night. “Compelled to reassure member institutions and the general public that it can police its member institutions, the NCAA enforcement staff has responded in an unnecessarily aggressive manner in submitting today’s unsubstantiated Notice of Allegations, and I, as well as the University, will vigorously dispute what has been alleged.
“In its haste and attempt to regain control, the enforcement staff has created a false narrative regarding me and our basketball program. The narrative is based on innuendo, half-truths, misimpressions and mischaracterizations. In reality, we all know there is only one version of the truth. The truth is based on verifiable facts, and I am confident the facts we will demonstrate in our case will expose the inaccuracies of the enforcement staff’s narrative.”
Combine that with the University saying they will “fiercely dispute … what has been presented” and it’s clear that the school is not going to go down without a fight, that they are not going to fire Self for ‘the good of the program.’
Put another way, this has all the makings of a long legal battle where the only winners end up being the lawyers and their billable hours.
But it also creates an interesting conversation.
For starters, Self has a point. The NCAA, out of their own self-interest, has to drop an anvil on Kansas. Self’s statement is going to be quite the rallying cry on Kansas message boards, but there isn’t a soul on the planet that isn’t wearing blue and crimson tinted glasses that believes Self was in the dark about what Gassnola was doing. The details might have been left unsaid, but Self is too smart to be that naive. He knows how the system works. adidas has a damn-near $200 million investment in Kansas athletics, and it’s good for business to have good players in Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
Gassnola’s testimony was deemed truthful enough to put three men behind bars. He discussed funneling $90,000 to the mother of Billy Preston. He talked about paying the guardian of Silvio De Sousa as much as $20,000. He talked about recruiting Deandre Ayton on behalf of Kansas.
Spare me the righteous indignation. This isn’t a witch hunt.
It is, however, interesting to see the difference in how that testimony is viewed, however.
In court, it was evidence that proved Kansas was a victim. The school had played players that were technically ineligible without knowing it. The players had received scholarship money and federal pell grants that they should not have been eligible to receive. The proof will be when the NCAA vacates the 15 wins that De Sousa played in during the 2017-18 season, when they pull down the Final Four banner that Kansas earned that season.
They were victimized by adidas, who just re-upped their deal with Kansas. The school is gladly taking in $14 million a year for the next 14 years to wear three stripes on all their gear.
But in the Notice of Allegations that Kansas received, adidas is labeled as a “representative of the institution’s athletics interests.” In other words, according to the NCAA, adidas is working on behalf of Kansas, that beyond the monetary exchanges, the contact that Gassnola, Jim Gatto and other adidas employees had with recruits was against NCAA rules. Self, knowing about these contacts, then committed another violation when he did not report them.
And frankly, this is the truth.
adidas is working on behalf of Kansas because what’s good for Kansas basketball is good for adidas. That’s their flagship basketball program. Of course they want Kansas winning the Big 12 every year. Of course they want the Jayhawks playing on ESPN twice a week with a single digit number next to their name. Of course they want the program in the Final Four, on the sport’s biggest stage. Every game, every House Of Highlights video, every news story with a picture on it is marketing for them.
That’s where this battle will take place.
Can Kansas be victimized by adidas if adidas is working on their behalf?
The answer is: Does the NCAA care if they have enough to win?