NCAA response highlights 'egregious' conduct, 'defiant posture' in alleged violations by KU

The NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis is pictured, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis is pictured, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Originally published May 7, 2020 at 2:44 p.m., updated May 7, 2020 at 4:33 p.m.

The NCAA delivered a scathing response to the University of Kansas this week regarding alleged violations in its men’s basketball program, citing “egregious, severe” conduct and emphasizing KU’s “defiant posture” in the case.

In a 92-page report released Thursday, the NCAA enforcement staff detailed its case for severe violations tied to recruiting by the KU men’s basketball program and coach Bill Self, as well as lower-level violations allegedly committed by the KU football program under former coach David Beaty.

The violations alleged to have taken place within the men’s basketball program, the NCAA argued, are “of the kind that significantly undermine and threaten the NCAA collegiate model.” Enforcement staff also took issue with KU not conceding that any Level I violations took place, saying the university was “indifferent” to how the alleged conduct may have adversely affected schools who recruited players in line with NCAA rules.

“The institution’s lack of timely cooperation and failure to acknowledge any responsibility for the alleged Level I violations are in direct contradiction to both the spirit and charge of the Commission and to the expectations of the membership,” the NCAA’s response said.

In a statement attributed to the University of Kansas that was posted to the KU public affairs website, the school said the enforcement staff’s reply didn’t change its position that no violations occurred in the men’s basketball program. The school has acknowledged that lower-level violations took place in the football program, and it self-reported those to the NCAA.

KU said the accusations against the men's basketball program are “simply baseless and littered with false representations.”

“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,” the statement said. “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.”

Later Thursday, attorneys for Self issued their own statement on the NCAA’s response, saying that Self “vigorously” maintains that the allegations are “groundless.” The statement called the NCAA’s version of events a “false narrative” and said that the response “has only reinforced Coach Self’s resolve, with the public support of Chancellor (Douglas) Girod, Athletic Director Jeff Long and all of KU, to defeat these meritless and irresponsible allegations once and for all.”


Adidas as a booster

A 2018 federal court case involving the Adidas pay-for-play scandal found that former consultant T.J. Gassnola intentionally hid illicit payments to potential recruits from Self and that KU was essentially a victim of fraud.

KU has leaned heavily on that finding in its defense of the violations, saying that while the payments almost certainly took place, the school and Self can’t be held responsible for third-party actions that they didn’t know were taking place.

In its response this week, however, the NCAA took to task that argument. NCAA rules, the enforcement staff argued, make it clear that athletic departments are responsible for the actions of their boosters. What’s more, the NCAA said, case precedent has well established that shoe companies that have marketing contracts with a university are a booster of that university.

When KU responded to the Notice of Allegations on March 5, it argued that the concept of an apparel company being a booster and representative of the university’s athletic interest was “novel.”

The enforcement staff’s reply quickly dismissed that argument.

“There is nothing novel in concluding that a shoe apparel company is a representative of the institution’s athletics interests,” the response said. “Shoe apparel companies are explicitly identified in the legislated definition and there is ample case precedent involving corporate entities as boosters.”

As the Journal-World has reported, KU has previously sent out a letter to area businesses reminding them of how they can properly interact with student-athletes. In that letter, it provides a definition of a booster, which uses athletic apparel companies as an example of what constitutes an booster.


Relationship with Gassnola

In its response, NCAA enforcement staff criticized how close KU allowed Gassnola to get to the “storied basketball program” and said KU ignored “red flags” for years which should have indicated that KU’s compliance staff needed to monitor his activities.

The university, the NCAA said, “failed to control and monitor the relationship between Adidas’ representatives with its storied men’s basketball program,” even if Gassnola was acting in his own interests — as KU has argued.

“This failure led to T.J. Gassnola, a convicted criminal and then Adidas outside consultant, having unfiltered access to the men’s basketball program and allowed for Gassnola and Adidas to profoundly influence the institution’s recruitment of elite men’s basketball student-athletes,” the NCAA said.

The NCAA says Self knew in 2012 that Gassnola and his AAU basketball team had been sanctioned by the NCAA. By 2014, a compliance officer with KU learned that the sanction of Gassnola was due to Gassnola’s association as a runner — or someone who helps recruit players — for a professional sports agent.

Yet, the NCAA notes, both Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend “regularly consulted” with Gassnola on recruiting elite basketball prospects. Self and Townsend allowed Gassnola access to closed basketball practices and shoot-arounds where he was allowed to interact with student-athletes, the NCAA said, and Gassnola was also allowed into a secure area for families waiting for their student-athletes to come out of arena locker rooms.

In addition, Gassnola was given tickets to sold-out events from Self’s or KU’s allotment of tickets, the NCAA said.

Later in the document, the NCAA highlights excerpts from interviews with KU officials that compare Gassnola to a mob-like figure.

“Kansas athletics administrators who observed Gassnola between 2013 and 2017 described him as looking like ‘an old mob guy,’ having the ‘same rap sheet as Lucky Luciano,’ ‘a scumbag,’ ‘a phony want to be,’ ‘a parasite taking advantage of kids,’ an ‘entertaining bullshitting hustler’ and ‘a Tony Soprano’ look-alike,” the response said.

In its March defense against the alleged violations, KU argued that even though Gassnola represented Adidas, he was acting in his own self-interest when he made illegal payments to potential Kansas recruits — therefore, KU couldn’t have committed NCAA violations since Gassnola acted in his individual capacity.

“The evidence however, based mainly on trial testimony, fails utterly to support a conclusion that Adidas or any Adidas employees acted as representatives of the University during the period in question,” KU’s response read. “Individuals formally associated with Adidas acted in their own interests when they gave money to the family and guardians of student-athletes.”


Timeline

The response from the NCAA enforcement staff is one of the final steps in the case, which began when KU received the NCAA’s original Notice of Allegations in September.

KU issued its defense against the allegations on March 5, after the NOA was amended several times. The NCAA enforcement staff then had 60 days to respond to that defense, meaning that its deadline was on Tuesday, May 5.

KU said in a statement on its website that the NCAA replied to KU on Wednesday, May 6. The response document, though, was dated May 4, and wasn’t posted to the university’s website until Thursday. The Journal-World first requested the response via the Kansas Open Records Act on May 4 and was told KU didn’t have the document.

Now that KU has received the response from the NCAA, the next step in the process will be to schedule a hearing before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions or through the Independent Accountability Resolutions Process, which was formed in 2018 as a way to handle the more complex cases that emerged from the federal investigation into corruption in college basketball recruiting.

The IARP is a five-person panel of decision-makers who have no direct ties to the NCAA. Decisions that come from the IARP are final and no appeals are granted. It is not yet known when a hearing in KU’s case will take place or which body will conduct that hearing.

All told, the allegations carry potential punishments that could keep the basketball program from the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1989 and result in a long-term suspension for Self, in addition to scholarship losses and other penalties.