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Originally published February 2, 2019 at 11:19a.m., updated February 2, 2019 at 04:01p.m.

NCAA’s De Sousa ruling raises new questions about whether KU coaches committed violations

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa talks with assistant coach Kurtis Townsend prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

Newcomer Silvio DeSousa talks with assistant coach Kurtis Townsend prior to tipoff against Texas on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 at Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.

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University of Kansas officials already have used the terms “mean-spirited” and “vindictive” to describe the NCAA and its suspension of KU basketball player Silvio De Sousa. But NCAA officials also used a term that should have the full attention of the leaders and fans of KU basketball: "booster."

As part of its announcement on Friday, the NCAA for the first time publicly described the individual who paid the guardian of De Sousa — known to be T.J. Gassnola, a former employee of Adidas now convicted of federal fraud charges — as a booster of the Kansas Athletics program.

The NCAA widely publicizes what boosters can and cannot do as it relates to recruits and their families. Gassnola has admitted to paying De Sousa’s guardian but also testified that he never made KU coaches aware of the payment. With the classification of Gassnola as a booster, NCAA regulations raise questions about whether a violation occurred, regardless of whether KU coaches knew of any payments.

The regulations regarding boosters call into question whether Kansas coaches acted improperly by asking Gassnola to reach out to De Sousa’s guardian at a time when KU was actively recruiting De Sousa.

As part of a federal trial in October — which involved two other Adidas representatives with connections to the KU basketball program — the jury heard testimony that KU assistant basketball coach Kurtis Townsend directly asked Gassnola to reach out to the guardian of De Sousa while KU was attempting to recruit De Sousa. The jury also saw text messages involving both Townsend and head coach Bill Self seeking details from Gassnola about the conversations he had with De Sousa’s guardian.

According to a fact sheet that the NCAA publishes regarding booster activity, such contact is not permissible by a booster. If it is determined that KU coaches were asking a booster to make such contact, or were seeking details from such contacts, that likely will capture the attention of NCAA investigators.

Jo Potuto, a University of Nebraska College of Law professor and former chair of the NCAA committee on infractions, doesn’t know specifics of what NCAA officials are investigating regarding KU. But she told the Journal-World via email that the NCAA language makes it clear that further action could be coming. Friday’s announcement regarding De Sousa’s eligibility was a narrow one that focused only on the question of whether De Sousa can play in games, she said.

An investigation into the activity of a booster is a separate matter that could produce findings that go beyond a single player but rather could affect the entire athletic department, she said.

“His (De Sousa’s) violations are also violations of the school,” Potuto said. “As are the violations of the booster. . . . So, with the student-athlete ineligibility and mention of booster, you know that the violations they committed are also violations for which KU is on the hook.”

At play is whether KU could be found to have lacked “institutional control.” That is one of the most serious violations the NCAA can levy against a program. Penalties can include forfeiture of games, a ban on postseason play and reduction in available scholarships. A forfeiture of games could require KU to wipe from its record books last year’s Final Four appearance and its record-setting 14th consecutive conference championship. A postseason ban would end its NCAA best streak of 29 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Potuto, though, said there is not enough in Friday’s announcement to say that KU faces a lack of institutional control finding or a similar but less serious finding of “failure to monitor.”

“Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control require more,” Potuto said via email. “I don’t know whether there is evidence here to support those findings. But, there are hundreds of student-athlete reinstatement decisions every year, meaning hundreds of violations, and there are hundreds of violations committed by schools, including some pretty serious, where no failure to monitor or lack of institutional control is found.”

Potuto pointed to recent action by the NCAA against the University of Missouri, which was found to have a tutor who was improperly helping student-athletes with academic work. Despite the seriousness of that finding, Missouri was not found to have lacked institutional control. However, that case may not provide much solace to KU fans because it also serves as a reminder that even when the NCAA doesn’t make a finding of a lack of institutional control, it can still levy significant penalties. The NCAA ordered a postseason ban for its football, baseball and softball programs, a vacation of wins for all three programs and reduction in scholarships available for all three programs. Missouri is appealing the ruling.

The Journal-World on Friday evening asked a Kansas Athletics spokesman whether the department was concerned it would face additional penalties and sanctions given some of the findings the NCAA has made thus far in the De Sousa case.

“We are not going to have any comment until this process is complete,” KU Athletics spokesman Jim Marchiony said.

Just prior to tipoff of Saturday’s game, Athletic Director Jeff Long said at a press conference that KU acknowledged to the NCAA that Gassnola was a booster and agent of the school, but he emphasized that KU did so only as a “hypothetical” to aid in the process of getting De Sousa eligible to play again.

Long said KU was told by the NCAA that if KU did not make the acknowledgement, the NCAA would not rule on De Sousa’s eligibility until it had completed its “enforcement investigation,” which likely will not be done until after the season is over.

“As we disagree with the NCAA staff on how to define Gassnola’s role in all of this, the NCAA told us they would not consider reinstatement unless we included that information,” Long said.

The NCAA defines a booster in a number of ways, including a person who has “participated in or has been a member of an organization promoting the university’s athletics programs,” according to its guidebook. The NCAA has ruled that Gassnola was an employee of Adidas, which has a multimillion-dollar agreement with KU Athletics.

Here’s a look at some of the testimony and evidence involving Self and Townsend that was presented at the federal fraud trial in October:

• Gassnola testified under oath that Townsend asked him to contact De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne. Gassnola testified that Townsend wanted Gassnola to connect Falmagne to Adidas so that Adidas could get gear for the Angolan National Team. Townsend’s request of Gassnola came during the time period that KU was recruiting De Sousa. KU has not clarified the specifics of Townsend's request or provided other information about it.

The NCAA guidebook on booster activity raises several questions about that exchange. According to the guidebook, boosters are not allowed to give anything of material value to a recruit or the recruit's family or guardian. As such, a coach would not be allowed to ask a booster to take any such action.

“Boosters are not precluded from continuing established friendships with families who have prospective student-athletes,” the guidebook reads. “However, boosters may not encourage a prospect’s participation in university athletics or provide benefits to prospects that were not previously provided.”

• Text messages showed that during the time KU was recruiting De Sousa, KU coaches were aware that Gassnola was in contact with De Sousa’s guardian. Text messages show that Townsend sent Gassnola a message alerting Gassnola that Self had just talked to De Sousa’s guardian. Townsend then asked Gassnola to “let me know how it goes.”

Gassnola later that day sent a text alerting Self that Gassnola had talked with De Sousa’s guardian. Self responded to that text by asking “We good?” Gassnola responded by saying “Always. That’s [sic] was light work. Ball is in his court now.” Gassnola and Self later that day had a phone conversation. Gassnola testified that he could not recall what was discussed on that phone call.

KU fans have pointed out that none of that exchange proves that Self knew of any payments that Gassnola made to De Sousa’s guardian. Gassnola also has testified that he never made Self aware of the payment that he made to De Sousa’s guardian.

However, now that it is known that Gassnola is classified as a booster of KU, the NCAA guidebook raises questions about whether a violation occurred, regardless of whether KU coaches knew of any payments. The NCAA has strict limits on who can participate in recruiting activities, and boosters certainly cannot.

“Only institutional staff members are permitted to recruit prospective student-athletes,” the guidebook reads. “Generally, NCAA rules prohibit anyone else from contacting (calling, writing or in-person contact) prospects or the prospect’s relatives or guardian for recruiting purposes.”

As such, a coach who knew of such contact between a booster and a recruit potentially would have committed a violation by failing to report such contact between a booster and a recruit. Self, following the trial's conclusion in October, issued a statement defending the actions of his staff.

"When recruiting prospective student athletes, my staff and I have not and do not offer improper inducements to them or their families to influence their college decisions nor are we aware of any third-party involvement to do so," Self said.

It is not known what, if any, other text messages Gassnola and Self shared during the recruitment of De Sousa or other players. The Journal-World filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act seeking all text messages between Self and Gassnola during the time period in question.

Kansas Athletics denied the open records request, citing, among other reasons, a provision in the law that allows records to be withheld if the public records contain “information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

— Journal-World reporters Dylan Lysen, Benton Smith and Matt Tait contributed to this report.

Comments

David Friend 4 months, 2 weeks ago

someone needs to explain how Gassnola is considered a booster of the university. Seems as though he was working with many universities.

Tim Orel 4 months, 2 weeks ago

What is the technical/legal definition of a "booster" as compared to someone who has a business relationship through the company? I agree, David, that Gassnola is tied to several universities, and I'd have questions then about each and every one. Is Maryland an Adidas school?

David Friend 4 months, 2 weeks ago

its not a reach. They are calling him a booster. Those are the merits and the potential issues. Remember this is kangaroo court. They get to say whatever they want and there is no recourse

Armen Kurdian 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I read in an article on espn.com that KU was forced to declare him as a booster before they could even ask for Silvio's reinstatement, something the University completely disagreed with doing, but did it for Silvio's benefit. And now they are using that against the school.

KU should sue the NCAA if they take any punitive action, and I believe they will. This is unconscionable.

Dane Pratt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

It sounds like the NCAA is calling him a booster to fit their definition of an impropriety. If he is a KU booster he's also a booster of Louisville, N.C. State, Arizona, etc.

Dustin Peterson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

13.02.15 Representative of Athletics Interests. A “representative of the institution’s athletics interests” is an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g., apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have been known) by a member of the institution’s executive or athletics administration to: (Revised: 2/16/00, 4/25/18) (a) Have participated in or to be a member of an agency or organization promoting the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program; (b) Have made financial contributions to the athletics department or to an athletics booster organization of that institution; (c) Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes; (d) Be assisting or to have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their family members; or (e) Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program. 13.02.15.1 Duration of Status. Once an individual, independent agency, corporate entity or other organization is identified as such a representative, the person, independent agency, corporate entity or other organization retains that identity indefinitely. (Revised: 2/16/00)

Dirk Medema 4 months, 2 weeks ago

The part about the recruiting that has me confused is how this relates to various current and former athletes interacting with recruits on social media. I was under the impression that it happens commonly, but they're now saying it is a violation?

Dane Pratt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is an argument to steer clear of 5 stars. They come with a disproportionate risk. Bill can and has recruited plenty of productive athletes that have contributed more to the success of this program than any OAD has.

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 1 week ago

Silvio wasn't a 5 star recruit so I have no idea what you're basing this on.

Barry Weiss 4 months, 2 weeks ago

and in rolls Chad with his glass half full!

Jeff Coffman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Easy appeal...the NCAA defined someone as a booster based on their arbitrary definition of a booster. This will create a lawsuit, this will lead to SDS being able to sue the NCAA and will win. Because of his potential it will basically cost the NCAA $100MM+, and KU will be the University that takes down the NCAA.

There are reasons to have the NCAA; however, this is clearly vindictive. KU had clearly been working with the NCAA to get the university protected from last year and to make things right for SDS, but the NCAA went out on a limb redefining the definition of a booster.

I hope lawsuits are filed.

Larry Knzas 4 months, 2 weeks ago

“Potuto said via email. “I don’t know whether there is evidence here to support those findings . . . “

Great, so let’s speculate and worry and speculate and then worry some more!!

Nice, very nice.

David Kemp 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is the new era of tabloid media. Don’t report facts just speculate the what ifs

Dane Pratt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

You think this is tabloid journalism? These are relevant questions. If you think raising them is bad journalism then you should bury your head in the sand.

Michael Sillman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Regardless of their intent, Self and Townsend demonstrated exceedingly poor judgment getting so deeply intertwined with this Gassnola character. I’ll be very surprised if there are not seismic repercussions for the KU basketball program well beyond any concern over its impact on a few recruits.

Tracey Graham 4 months, 2 weeks ago

No matter how you define the term, "boosters" have caused problems for colleges in terms of NCAA violations for decades. If a coach was smart, s/he would do everything in his or her power to keep "boosters" away from the student-athletes. They certainly shouldn't use them in the recruiting process.

However, the bottom line is that the player is still the one getting punished when he reportedly didn't do anything wrong. The system is completely broken, if not out and out corru[pt and hypocritical.

The only thing that will fix this is if De Souza and/or other players sue the NCAA. Someone needs to hae the courage to step forward and say this system needs to be destroyed. Otherwise, players will continue to be punished as coaches, schools and the NCAA itself continue to get rich

David Kemp 4 months, 2 weeks ago

It’s hard to believe all this trouble over a kid that’s good but by no means great.

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 1 week ago

Well, he was statistically better than Dok by the end of last year and that's with very little practice or game time relative to other players. He also got WAY better in just a couple months of playing time so there is no reason to think he's reached his ceiling after 15 games or however many he played last year.

Furthermore, a lot of it is also about setting a precedent and standing up to the NCAA douche-lords.

Layne Pierce 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Missouri has problem now also. The treatment of Silvio is grossly unfair. The fact is that the NCAA needs to reorganize, and penalties need to be clear cut, and enforced. Duke should go down, if KU does, so should Arizona, so should North Carolina, they had tuitors cheating for students, and they got nothing.

It is the stupid hypocrisy of the NCAA that is so galling. They play favorites, they come up iwth excuses for the favorites, and they punish the athletes in unreasonable and unfair ways.

If KU is going to be punished, then we should demand that it be completely in the open, and witnesses, or we sue.

RCJH

Brad Watson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This article confirms what I said yesterday...every game Silvio participated in will be forfeited...all the games from last year...Coach will have to return a lot of bonus money....loss of conference games and the championship.. ...the consecutive title streak will end at 13......last years title wiped away from the history books.......Final Four money will need to be returned. by the conference......money already divided up...and in some cases...already spent........it will be a big financial mess and a lot of upset people will demand that someone be fired...someone will have to take responsibility for it....it will be ugly.........it may cost Coach his job....the informants are very good at their job....only the people involved know the real truth...but around Memorial Day...we will all know...and we could be penalized big time .... and that's the way it is...so get ready for it.....What a mess!!!!!

Brad Watson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is one time when I hope I am wrong.

Micky Baker 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Regardless, Silvio needs to sue the NCAA. The NCAA should have resolved this before the season so Silvio could make a decision but now it's going to be very difficult for him to get into the NBA because of this ordeal over $2500. It is just stupid. A 10 game suspension would have been sufficient, but his college career is over unless he transfers to a lower division school or JUCO.

Bill Lamson 4 months, 2 weeks ago

I'm not trying to be an NCAA apologist, and I'm a huge KU fan/alum, but let's not forget...the NCAA didn't have anything to resolve until just recently. It's not like they've been sitting on this for months. Just the opposite...KU did not submit any request to them and didn't officially declare him ineligible until a couple weeks ago. Up until then they'd just voluntarily held him out and never asked the NCAA to do anything. So the NCAA isn't to blame for how long it took...to the contrary, they actually made the decision very quickly. So the question is...why did the university wait till Jan. to start the process???? My guess...they had to get all their ducks in a row, and that probably included a whole lot of behind the scenes CYA'ing. I definitely don't like the 2 years, but I'm guessing part of it was probably due to what the NCAA knows about KU staff involvement. If nobody on the staff knew anything, I think he only gets 1 year, and maybe an appeal will work, but I'm not going to put all of the blame on the NCAA just yet since we probably don't even know half of what really happened.

Armen Kurdian 4 months, 2 weeks ago

That's not what I got. My understanding is that KU thought the NCAA was reviewing the case...plus the NCAA forced KU to recognize Gassnola as a booster which the school did not want to do before they would review the case. Now that they have done this, the NCAA is holding it over the school's head like the Sword of Damocles. I don't see any way that KU could have avoided this...what are they supposed to do, investigage every parent, guardian, uncle, cousin, former roommate that may have ever known a recruit? Obscene.

Shannon Gustafson 4 months, 1 week ago

You're wrong.

They were in contact with the NCAA the whole time. After KU and the NCAA agreed to a set of terms they said KU needed to formally rule him ineligible and admit there was a violation. At that time the NCAA would officially start their investigation. Then, when they were moving slow as molasses, they told KU they would likely not be done until after the season UNLESS they would agree to calling TJ a booster "hypothetically" in which case they could make a quick ruling.

There is no reason to guess about this stuff. Long issued a very detailed statement outlining how this all went down. All you have to do is read it, then no speculation is required.

Carolyn Hunzicker 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Why don't KU and all their alums SUE theNCAA

Dane Pratt 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Why sue, just appeal the decision.

Do you really want to be on the NCAA 5hit list.

Micky Baker 4 months, 1 week ago

Silvio's attorney filed a lawsuit against the NCAA a week or two ago. The action by the NCAA is vindictive, it seems. They could have made this determination 6 months ago so Silvio could have an opportunity to make other decisions at that time. This season is completely lost for him. But he has a chance of hitting the NCAA real hard now with a new lawsuit over this. Not that that is how I would want him to make money, but they're messing with his future and the know it.

Carolyn Hunzicker 4 months, 2 weeks ago

As long as KU is connected to Adidas the NCAA will always be a problem for KU

RJ King 4 months, 1 week ago

oh please, Carolyn ... as if Nike is clean.

Barry Weiss 4 months, 2 weeks ago

ESPN is saying our AD said the NCAA would not rule on Silvio unless KU called Ganola a booster, something KU did not agree with, but were told we had to if we wanted the NCAA to rule. I call BS on those types of tactics. I say KU should become the poster child of going nuclear on the NCAA in a massive lawsuit. The gloves are off.

Dyrk Dugan 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This was obviously written before the AD’s statement; or a quick phone call and question for comment would have been appropriate. Either way, this is a misleading article at best. “The NCAA for the first time, publicly described the individual.....”; so dramatic! And so wrong! KU listed him as a “booster”; forced to do by the NCAA; so they could rule on reinstating Silvio. The NCAA didn’t “describe” him; Kansas did. And how can he be a “booster,” when he’s employed by the shoe company, that has a legal contract with the school? In two words; he can’t. Did the recruit receive improper benefits? No. Did the school direct said “booster” to provide improper benefits? No. Does the school have the right to talk to an employee of a contracted apparel company? Yes. At this point, if I were in charge at KU, I would tell the NCAA the ruling on Silvio is good; you destroyed a kid’s college career for receiving zero benefits; fine. But this is it; this washes us clean of this whole thing. No more investigations on this matter. Because this whole deal was a set up in the first place; the FBI sting started when one guy, who committed real crimes, wanted to get his lengthy sentence reduced, and he put them in touch with all of these runners, agents and Adidas; and over the cliff it went. And KU is trying like heck to find a branch to grab hold of, on the way down; and this latest ruling, should be it.

Pius Waldman 4 months, 2 weeks ago

My thinking is the NCAA wanted to make someone punished harshly and picked KU to be the victim.saying certain things had to be agreed before they would even consider making a decision. The people are not boosters for schools but employees doing things for their company.

To me it appears.a protest will give the player a reduced sentence. .

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