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KU coach Bill Self opens up on pressure surrounding recruiting, college basketball

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Kansas head coach Bill Self tries to pump up his players during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas head coach Bill Self tries to pump up his players during the second half, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

In discussing the “tough week” that hammered college basketball from nearly all angles this week, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self on Thursday night focused mostly on what could be done to fix a culture that has allowed shoe companies, third parties and the high-stakes world of recruiting to take control of the sport.

But although Self admitted that many of the ideas he had either thought of or heard about — ideas that, on the surface, might make the game better — he also acknowledged that finding the solution likely would be a long and difficult process.

It remains to be seen just how deep the ongoing FBI investigation will go and how many more schools, coaches and athletes will find themselves in serious trouble, but there is no doubting that every aspect of the college game is suddenly under heavy scrutiny and facing dangerous days ahead.

That fact only figures to add to the already existing pressure that surrounds the game. And Self on Thursday night opened up about the numerous layers of pressure that exist within college basketball.

“The money is what’s driven the pressure,” he said. “There’s pressure on the NCAA, when they’ve got a how-many-billion-dollar industry? There’s pressure on the schools to hire the right guys and pay them a high salary that gives them the best chance to (win). And then there’s pressure from the alumni that expect certain things, and in order to make bills meet you jack up the ticket prices, so now there’s pressure on coaches even from alums that say, ‘You’re not giving us the product that we’re paying for.’

“And then there’s pressure on the kids because if they don’t go to the league after their sophomore year, they’re considered failures. There’s pressure on everybody. And I do think it’s more magnified now and it probably is more than it has been because of all the money that’s involved in our industry.”

Most, if not all, of that pressure has always existed in the world of college athletics, but Self said he thought the advancement of social media has taken it to new levels year after year.

“Coaches don’t win games, players do,” he said. “And in order to win you need to have as good of guys or better guys than the people you’re competing against. That’s common sense. So I’ve always thought there was pressure in recruiting. But I do think that the attention has been elevated so much through social media. Instead of getting on the message boards, you could almost call it rumor boards, too. There’s things that are said all the time and now you have to defend yourself all the time. And it’s everybody that has to do this.”

One of the biggest sources of pressure, according to Self, is the frustration that comes from not knowing exactly what is going on with every prospect a program recruits. Sure, coaches are able to keep in touch with the players on a regular basis, and, yeah, they meet the parents and AAU coaches and, occasionally, even a young man’s extended family. But Self said sometimes that is not enough.

“You have too many third parties involved,” he said.

And the only way to eliminate that altogether, or at least lessen their influence, is to overhaul the entire system.

“You’re also talking about where it’s totally legal for agents or financial planners or whatever to go meet with a 15-year-old and his family or a 16-year-old and his family,” Self said. “And you think that everybody that is meeting with them are 100 percent ethical and above board? There’s a lot of stuff. And that’s why there needs to be reform. There’s no question about that. I just don’t know if anybody’s come up with a perfect scenario to do that.

“Some people say just pay players and we won’t have this issue. I think that could open up a whole other deal. So there’s some serious things that have to be discussed and decisions made to allow our sport to move on in a favorable way.”


More news and nuggets from a crazy week in college basketball

  • AUDIO: Bill Self discusses "a tough week for college basketball"
  • Comments

    Len Shaffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Yep. Not to mention classy and honest -- a rare combo in college sports these days ...

    Suzi Marshall 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Self makes some good points but perhaps a bit of hyperbole. Pressure to perform is part of life everywhere, perhaps nowhere more than a firefighter entering a burning building to save a life or a solider ordered to take a strongly held defensive position. Rules and laws are made by the representative we choose, be it Congress or the NCAA. If you willfully break those laws, one should be punished accordingly. Increasingly we are living in a lawless society led by the media organizations like ESPN.

    Titus Canby 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Good point on the pressure issue Suzi. Every time my team at work is having a bad day, I remind them, "nobody hit us or shot at us today." Given that, Self and Zenger have P&L responsibility." That's still a lot of pressure, especially with the amount of attention heaped on them.

    Basketball and football sure did seem a lot more fun in the 70s and 80s when I was in my teens and 20s. Was it really more pure then, or was I just more naive then?

    Len Shaffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Probably a combination of both. I know that I used to have a lot "purer" feelings about baseball on those days too.

    Len Shaffer 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Obviously there's no comparison in terms of the pressure of life and death, but it's a different kind of pressure, knowing that your future livelihood depends on the decisions of teenagers while the whole country is watching.

    Ray Winger 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    Good Observe on 'living lawless' being led by media organizations...like 'clinton foundation...pay to play.....and Jack Yantis being killed, or Sandra Bland'

    Joe Ross 2 months, 2 weeks ago

    One question in all of this is whether or not relationships with Adidas are now risky enough that that company feels some sort of pressure to mend fences with the schools it supports (read "hold on to them so they don't jump ship") via stronger financial incentives.

    Joe Ross 2 months, 1 week ago

    ...despite the opportunistic parasitism of such a prospect, I'd look for schools to try to leverage the company's position against them for the sake of money.

    And Kansas has the biggest chip in the game. It is the highest profile of any of the Universities being sponsored by the shoe company.

    If Nike or Under Armour could pluck Kansas away...

    Mike Greer 2 months, 1 week ago

    The one option I really don't like is paying collegiate players. Let the one and done's go straight to the NBA and play in the D league if they need the extra time. If you want to play college ball, then you play for Scholarship otherwise go pro. The NBA complicated this mess and they need to be part of the solution and quit using college ball as their testing ground.

    Joe Ross 2 months, 1 week ago

    Respectfully, I disagree. Paying college players might avoid some of this bribery and so on. Money would have to only be allowed from certain sources. Some might think it's foolish to trust that people would abide by that. But the news this week proves that it's already happening (and let's not think for a second that all the information is known). My point is that paying players certainly won't make things worse. OADs can still go straight to the NBA or the D-league (now called something else). These players are generating countless millions of dollars for universities, conferences and the NCAA and a scholarship is not a proportional award. Not in this life or the next.

    Aaron Paisley 2 months, 1 week ago

    Paying players a small stipend beyond what they already get isn't going to slice anything either. People are naturally greedy and will always want more. No school is going to pay 100k to a kid like Adidas was paying for players.

    Craig Carson 2 months, 1 week ago

    the NBA didnt complicate things, HS kids with AAU coaches,Financial advisors,family ect, in their ears wanting to cash in and the kids being impatient is what has caused this confusion....college basketball used to be viewed as a right of passage, a sort of proving ground where you honed your skills, now kids see it as a distraction.the NBA is a private employer and as an employer they have the right to set the standards of application...they also have the right to protect their product. If they feel it would benefit them to have a kid play an extra year to better evaluate them before forking over millions, then players need to suck it up and fans need to quit b^^^^^^ng about the OAD..The NBA is NEVER going to develop its D league to allow HS kids to go there instead of college or Europe..the NCAA has been the farming system for the NBA and NFL for decades..with a lot of success..why would the NBA pay for something (D league) when they can follow the free system that has already made them billions????

    Mike Greer 2 months, 1 week ago

    Joe, I understand your concern for the players, my son was a division I athlete on a scholarship, not in a money sport. It demands a great deal of your time. The problems with pay for play are many, very many. Where do you draw the line on who gets paid and how much, which sports, how do you satisfy title IX? The list goes on and on, I could make this post a book with the problems associated with paying college players and it's still not going to keep all of them clean. There's no way a university could or should pay someone like a Josh Jackson what he's worth in the NBA. How much would a female volleyball player have to be paid to keep up with the football team for title IX? It's foolish to think you can pay college players.

    Craig Carson 2 months, 1 week ago

    not only that, but what about the schools that may not have the budgets to pay all their player...and will there be a ceiling on how much a kid can recieve or will they be able to rent themselves out to the highest bidder..and how are the worst FB programs suppose to improve if all the best HS players go to the schools that pay the best???

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