There doesn’t seem to be much of a debate over whether there were NCAA rules violations committed relative to the Kansas basketball program. T.J. Gassnola, a consultant for adidas, testified that he made payments to the family members of multiple KU recruits. One of those players never played for the Jayhawks as a result, and one was suspended for an entire season.
The issue in the NCAA infractions case against Kansas is whether KU itself is involved in those violations.
The NCAA stated in the enforcement division’s 92-page reply to Kansas regarding the facts of its case that the alleged infractions were "egregious, severe and are the kind that significantly undermine and threaten the NCAA Collegiate Model."
The NCAA is asserting that Gassnola, three other adidas representatives and the company itself are, in the vernacular of NCAA jurisprudence, representatives of KU’s athletic interests.
As a result of that categorization, communications between the adidas reps and KU coaches — most notably head coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend — would make the basketball program party to several of the alleged violations. Gassnola testified that neither those two nor any other Jayhawks coaches were aware of the payments he made to prospects’ families, but the NCAA’s tactic is to insist this does not mitigate what occurred.
This is the equivalent of building a high-rise tower on a foundation of sand.
If adidas is a representative of Kansas’ athletic interests, which of the Division I programs with whom it has contracted to supply athletic apparel and equipment is it not? The company does not have an extraordinary share of the power conference programs, only about a dozen, but they include several national powers.
If adidas is a representative of Kansas’ athletic interests, would not Nike be representative of the myriad programs it outfits? They include some of the biggest names in the sport — and nine of the past 10 NCAA champions.
And, as Kansas pointed out in its response to the NCAA’s initial allegations, if adidas fits the category that is more colloquially known as “booster,” does it not imperil the NCAA eligibility of all athletes who attend such invitation-only player events as adidas Nations or possibly even the Gauntlet summer tournament that is the approximation of Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League?
The NCAA claims “not only did the membership contemplate this scenario, they feared shoe and apparel company involvement and influence in the recruitment of elite student-athletes and then put safeguards in place in an attempt to prevent what occurred in this case.”
The NCAA further stated that although Kansas pointed out the logical fallacies in place in the enforcement division’s case, “there is no cause for concern among member institutions as most of their relationships with corporate entities comply with NCAA legislation.”
I’ve been a reader long enough to have read some preposterous sentences, but this might set a new world record.
Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger wrote the book “Sole Influence” two decades ago, and the apparel companies have only become more intertwined with youth basketball in the years since. The book jacket stated “these companies scour the country for the basketball stars of tomorrow, handing out free footwear, free sports gear and the lure of six-figure contracts — just to wear a certain brand of shoe.”
Somebody’s trying to say Kansas is the only one playing this game? That the Jayhawks are the only school expecting, at the very least, their sneaker company to help guide prospects who played high school or summer ball under that company’s banner?
To the extent that there were violations committed — and Kansas did not withhold, for no reason, Billy Preston from competition in November 2017, then watch him leave two months later to sign a pro contract without a resolution of his eligibility case — there needs to be appropriate punishment.
It seems unlikely even Kansas would fight against that outcome, depending on the severity. The NCAA instead is taking a hardline approach, eager for a profound public victory after the embarrassment endemic to the 2017 Justice Department investigation into the basketball talent game that led to four D-I assistant coaches being arrested and pleading guilty and court testimony implicating several other programs in infractions.
Kansas’ intransigence here is not merely theater, and neither does it seem a tactic born of North Carolina’s success in staving off sanctions relative to the academic scandal that impacted much of past decade for the Tar Heels. KU believes it has a case here, and it seems likely if it does not perceive justice is done in the NCAA’s court, it will pursue a remedy in a court of law.