University of Kansas officials either can’t or will not say whether KU communicated to the NCAA that it only considered former Adidas employee and recruiting fixer T.J. Gassnola a "booster" to the program for an eligibility case.
That could be an important distinction as KU tries to argue in an NCAA infractions case against several alleged recruiting violations tied to Gassnola’s relationship to the program.
On Thursday, neither KU Chancellor Douglas Girod nor KU Athletics spokesman Dan Beckler could confirm the university provided official communication to the NCAA that it only viewed Gassnola as a booster to the program in the eligibility case of basketball player Silvio De Sousa.
Additionally, the university denied a Journal-World request through the Kansas Open Records Act for a copy of any communication with the NCAA on the matter.
On Feb. 2, KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said the NCAA forced KU to consider Gassnola a booster to the program when KU asked the NCAA to rule on the eligibility of De Sousa. De Sousa was sitting out from participating with the basketball team amid allegations revealed in a college basketball corruption trial in October 2018 that his guardian, Fenny Falmagne, accepted a $2,500 payment from Gassnola for De Sousa to attend KU.
After KU’s request, the NCAA ruled De Sousa ineligible for two seasons. It later reduced the suspension to one season after a successful appeal from KU. De Sousa is currently eligible to play for the team and is expected to be an important contributor this season.
When Long announced that KU planned to appeal De Sousa’s suspension during the Feb. 2 press conference, he said the university considered Gassnola a booster “only as a hypothetical for the purposes of reinstatement," and KU disagrees with NCAA staff on how to “define Gassnola’s role in all of this.”
But whether that was officially communicated to the NCAA is unclear.
When the Journal-World asked Girod Thursday about any possible communication outlining the university’s view on Gassnola, he said he could not remember if it had done so because it was months in the past. Beckler, when asked the same question, did not directly answer but said the university planned to publicly release its response to the NCAA’s allegations.
“As we said September 23 when we shared the Notice of Allegations, the university will continue to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement process and looks forward to submitting its Response to the Notice of Allegations, and we will make that response public when it is submitted,” Beckler said in an email.
The NCAA charged the KU program with lack of institutional control, three Level 1 violations in the men’s basketball program and coach Bill Self with a “responsibility charge." Level 1 violations are deemed the most serious and can include penalties such as scholarship reductions and postseason bans.
As the Journal-World reported in February, the university's case against sanctions likely hinges on whether it can convince the NCAA that Gassnola is not a booster to the basketball program.
Josephine Potuto, a University of Nebraska College of Law professor and former chair of the NCAA committee on infractions, said at the time that an employee for an apparel company could be considered a booster. Potuto pointed to the NCAA handbook, which shows under its guidelines for “Institutional Control” that universities can be held responsible for the actions of corporate entities and their employees that are working on their behalf, whether the universities are aware of their actions or not.
“If (a university) asks for help from someone outside, that clearly triggers booster status,” Potuto said via email. “But someone who is ‘assisting,’ even if the (university) says it did not know, also could trigger booster status.”
Additionally, KU Athletics regularly sends guidelines to members of the Lawrence chamber of commerce about how they can interact with the program. Those guidelines, which are dated October 2017, were shared again this week. Under a section called “Booster Defined,” the guidelines show an apparel company can be considered a booster to the program, seemingly in contradiction to the university’s stance on Gassnola.
When asked about the guideline and how it contradicts the university’s stance, Girod said KU was obligated by the NCAA to publish that information and declined any further comment.