Mon, Oct 14, 2019

Kansas coach Bill Self said at the Jayhawks’ first practice of the season Thursday that the results of the NCAA’s investigation into his program would not be a distraction for the team, as long as he handles it the right way.

“I do think it could become that if I’m not very mature about it,” Self told reporters Thursday. “But I plan on being very mature about this. And I plan on coaching this team better and harder than any team I’ve had here at Kansas. …I don’t see it as being a distraction at all from a player standpoint, and I see it as being a gift to me, from a personal standpoint, that it’ll motivate me in a pretty competitive way.”

Self’s tone was quite different from Monday when he wasted little time publicly denying what the NCAA accused him and his program of: substantial cheating and neglectful oversight. Self released a statement Monday night, in conjunction with the University of Kansas, setting the stage for a huge battle with the NCAA. 

What we have here, potentially, is the first formidable series of sanctions to come out of the FBI’s unprecedented investigation into nefarious college basketball recruiting that will have widespread NCAA impact and reaction. 

And the University of Kansas — along with its Hall of Fame coach — immediately opted to aggressively respond and deny many of the charges made by the enforcement division of the NCAA, which spent many months building its case and serving the university with a notice of allegations. 

Self issued a hearty and defiant statement, calling the evidence cited in the NCAA’s investigation as “unsubstantiated” and accusing the organization’s enforcement division of being wrongly zealous in its hurry to pin a high-profile program against the wall amid the fallout from the FBI’s investigation. In the statement, Self said:

“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. 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.”

Self had a longstanding relationship with former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola, who was a government witness during the federal trial in October 2018. In that trial, Gassnola testified under oath that he paid the parents/guardians of two KU players: Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. However, Gassnola also never directly said — or even implied — that Self and his staff were working outside NCAA rules.

If anything, his testimony was the opposite: he laid out how Adidas was helping Kansas thrive while trying to keep its coaches in the dark about dirty recruiting. Nevertheless, Gassnola’s stories were met with eye rolls and heaps of skepticism throughout college basketball’s community. 

And now we have an interesting juxtaposition with Kansas. The government was able to prove to a jury that the university was a victim of Gassnola’s schemes. But the NCAA is labeling Gassnola a booster of the university given his ties to Adidas, which sponsors the school’s athletic teams.

The NCAA is now accusing Self and KU basketball of negligence — and worse — as Gassnola worked outside the margins to help Kansas bring in top-flight recruits. In his statement, Self is having none of this. 

“I have always taken pride in my commitment to rules compliance and led programs that operate with integrity and within the rules, and I am proud of the success that we have achieved at each program along the way,” Self said in his statement. “Every student-athlete who has ever played for me and their families know we follow the rules. These allegations are serious and damaging to the University and to myself, and I hate that KU has to go through this process. With our staff’s full cooperation, these allegations will be addressed within NCAA procedures and with urgency and resolve. I will strenuously defend myself and the program, but I will respect the process and will not speak to the details of the case.”

Self is aligned with his bosses at Kansas, who are ready for a fight. How successful they will be remains to be seen. While the NCAA’s enforcement division is the group that formally accuses an institution of rule-breaking, a separate body — the Committee on Infractions — is tasked with taking the evidence and doling out punishment. 

And in light of the FBI’s investigation and the Rice Commission’s subsequent recommendations, the NCAA is now operating under a new penalty structure. Kansas stands in the crosshairs of a high-profile case, and it will soon be joined by other schools. 

“It is already clear from an initial review that the University will fiercely dispute in detail much of what has been presented,” the school said in its statement. “First and foremost, the University emphasizes that it emphatically rejects the assertion that Adidas and Adidas employees and associates were boosters and agents of the University (as defined by NCAA legislation) during the period of the alleged violations and therefore acting on the University’s behalf when they engaged in alleged violations of NCAA bylaws.”

The NCAA also has levied a lack-of-institutional-control charge against the program, which is a serious and broad accusation that could lead to punishments as serious as a postseason ban or a show-cause penalty (read: effective banishment) for Self. Kansas rejects the charge, stating, “In fact, the University believes that the record will demonstrate just the opposite.”

“As for the allegations regarding Head Men’s Basketball Coach Bill Self, voluminous evidence demonstrates uncontestably that he did, in fact, promote an atmosphere of compliance and fully monitor his staff,” the statement reads. “The University firmly and fully supports Coach Self and his staff.”

Kansas has 90 days from Monday to officially respond to what the NCAA’s enforcement staff has levied against its men’s basketball program (and football, though the football program’s transgressions are not nearly as severe). By the time this case runs its course, the 2019-20 season figures to have come and gone, meaning any future punishments and suspensions in play won’t be effective until the 2020-21 season. 

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