Kansas, NCAA dig in deeper in battle over allegations of major recruiting violations under Bill Self
Kansas and the NCAA continue one of the most high-profile fights in college athletics
Kansas and the NCAA refuse to agree on interpretations of most key details in the significant ongoing case between the blue blood basketball program and the mothership institution it belongs to.
On Thursday, the school publicly revealed the NCAA's formal response in regard to the case that originated when Kansas was lassoed into the federal government's investigation of illicit recruiting in college basketball.
The NCAA's opening statement in its response includes this passage: "There can be no doubt the men's basketball allegations are egregious, severe and are of the kind that significantly undermine and threaten the NCAA collegiate model. The institution, in taking its defiant posture in this case, is indifferent to how its alleged violations may have adversely impacted other NCAA institutions who acted in compliance with NCAA legislation."
The allegations of rule breaking against Kansas are all tied to evidence, witness testimony and information uncovered during the federal government's bribery trial in April 2019. Kansas was brought into focus when former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testified under oath that he helped facilitate payments to the mother of former KU player Billy Preston and the guardian of current Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa.
Those transgressions are only some of Kansas' problems now.
The school first received its notice of allegations on Sept. 23, 2019, but deadline extensions along the way pushed its response allowance to March 5, 2020. KU formally sent its retort to the NCAA in the beginning of March and challenged every major allegation made by the NCAA. KU was hit with five Level I violations — the most aggressive and serious that can be levied against a collegiate institution or university employee.
Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self was assessed with a head coach responsibility charge. Jayhawks assistant Kurtis Townsend was levied two Level I violations. The school was also accused of a lack of institutional control. The football program was accused of committing two violations under former coach David Beaty. Kansas and the NCAA are more aligned with the less-significant football matters than the inflammatory nature of the basketball allegations.
"The NCAA enforcement staff's reply does not in any way change the University of Kansas' position that the allegations brought against our men's basketball program are simply baseless and littered with false representations," Kansas' statement from Thursday reads. "As the federal trial proved, Adidas employees intentionally concealed impermissible payments from the University and its coaching staff. The University has never denied these impermissible payments were made. For the NCAA enforcement staff to allege that the University should be held responsible for these payments is a distortion of the facts and a gross misapplication of NCAA Bylaws and case precedent. In addition, the enforcement staff's assertion that KU refuses to accept responsibility is wrong. The University absolutely would accept responsibility if it believed that violations had occurred, as we have demonstrated with other self-reported infractions. Chancellor Girod, Jeff Long and KU stand firmly behind Coach Self, his staff and our men's basketball program, as well as our robust compliance program."
The school has previously stated that any accusations of wrongdoing in this case against Self are "based on a misguided, unprecedented, and meritless interpretation and application of NCAA booster and recruiting legislation."
Kansas is at odds with the NCAA over the definition of a "booster" and how such a broad definition could apply in this case. The school has fought against the notion Adidas' employees would have been boosters when they made payments to parents/guardians of players or help facilitate recruitments in Kansas' favor. Gassnola himself testified that KU's coaching staff was unaware of his doings, but text messages from Gassnola to Self, shown in court, revealed Gassnola's willingness to stock the cupboard for one of the biggest and best coaches — and schools — in college basketball.
All with the financial backing of multibillion-dollar apparel company Adidas.
A wiretap phone call between Townsend and former Adidas consultant Merl Code is also damaging to Kansas' case because on that call Townsend uses language regarding the recruitment of Zion Williamson that could be interpreted as willing to break NCAA rules to land Williamson. The NCAA's response from Thursday includes response from Townsend, during his meeting with the NCAA in March, wherein he admitted to continuing to recruit Williamson (whose name is redacted from the report) but would have not committed NCAA rules in order to secure his commitment.
Self, who is a Hall of Fame coach with more than 700 wins and a national championship to his name, would be vulnerable to a significant suspension if Kansas lost its case. In the aftermath of the FBI's investigation, the Rice Commission made recommendations to the NCAA to institute more perilous punishments to rule-breakers. Kansas is one of nearly a dozen schools entangled with the NCAA, all of them part of the fallout from the federal government's investigation in 2017.
The NCAA contends, "Regarding the men's basketball allegations, few facts are in dispute" and its response states that Kansas and the NCAA are in agreement that Gassnola provided "at least $100,000 to the families of three men's basketball prospective student-athletes."
Where KU and the NCAA are at odds: responsibility for all of this.
"The institution, Self and Townsend have accepted no responsibility for this conduct," the NCAA's opening statement reads. "They assert that Adidas and four of its employees or consultants are not representatives of the institution's athletic interests."
That assertion is strongly contested by the NCAA enforcement group, which cites NCAA legislation as precedent for the realities — and temptations — that shoe-company affiliation can bring about.
The NCAA's enforcement group is the entity responsible for fact-gathering and initial interviews during this process; it's the group that wrote the formal response released on Thursday. The Committee on Infractions, which will be the next group Kansas has to face, takes all of the information, conducts more interviews and ultimately rules on the case.
The next step in this process is for the NCAA and Kansas to agree on a hearing date with the Committee on Infractions. That date is not yet known, as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the timeline of NCAA cases across the board. Its timeline is important, though, because resolution to this case is sought before the scheduled start of the 2020-21 season. Infractions hearings are historically done in person. The logistics of that remain to be worked out.