Monday, October 15, 2018


Tom Keegan: Stormy texting puts KU basketball on center stage at trial

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with media members at the Hotel Ambassador upon the Jayhawks' arrival in Wichita on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with media members at the Hotel Ambassador upon the Jayhawks' arrival in Wichita on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.


What you make of the Monday revelations from the trial on corruption in college basketball very well could depend on what the giant letters in fancy font at the top of the framed diploma on your wall spell.

If they spell Kentucky, you’re going to embrace the worst-case-for-KU interpretation of the texts between Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and T.J. Gassnola, formerly a director of an AAU program in Massachusetts and an Adidas consultant. If they spell Kansas, you might opt for the best-case-for-KU analysis.

To see what your gut tells you actually happened, you might want to read the texts once. Then reread them, and this time pretend that they were between John Calipari and a Nike man, not Bill Self and an Adidas character sent up from central casting to play his role to perfection. Take your temperature after each reading and note the difference.

First, a refresher on what Self said a year and a couple of days ago about third parties such as Adidas helping in recruiting.

Self was asked if he was surprised to hear allegations of possible six-figure payments going from Adidas to those influencing recruits to pick a school.

“That surprises me, yeah,” Self said Oct. 13, 2017. “That does surprise me. Now, I'm not going to go into a lot of detail. What’s not surprising is third parties’ involvement, who are recruiting. Everybody should know that. That's prevalent everywhere.”

He was not apologetic for Adidas officials putting in good words with athletes who might have known the sneaker power brokers because they sponsored their AAU programs, a means to getting an introduction to players they hope will advertise their shoes playing on TV in college and then the NBA.

So why wouldn’t Self buddy up to shoe guys who are buddying up to players if it gave him a competitive edge in recruiting?

“There’s nothing illegal about agents talking to kids and their families in ninth or 10th grade the way the rules are today,” Self said a year ago. “There's nothing illegal about shoe companies funding AAU programs. That’s what’s been encouraged and that’s what’s been done and that’s what’s been said legal, so it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that you could have influence coming from third parties when those things are prevalent.”

Now let’s look at texts reported by the Associated Press and between Self and T.J. Gassnola, former director of an AAU program and Adidas consultant, and consider best-case-for-KU and worst-case-for-KU interpretations:

Gassnola thanked Self in a text for his role in completing the contract extension between KU and Adidas.

Self responded that he’s happy with Adidas and added that he needs to land a couple of “real guys.”

Worst-case interpretation: Self was letting Gassnola know that it’s time for him to do his part to ensure that a couple of big-time recruits commit to Kansas, letting him know he’s happy with what Adidas has done for him so far, but it’s time to get even more aggressive to land even better players.

Best-case interpretation: Self was thinking out loud to someone, with whom he has talked for years, about how he needs to upgrade recruiting with a couple of grand slams.

Text from Gassnola to Self: “Hall of Fame. When you have 5 minutes and your (sic) alone call me.”

Self didn’t respond and received a follow-up text from Gassnola later that night: “I talked with Fenny.”

Fenny Falmagne is Silvio De Sousa’s guardian.

Self: “We good?”

Gassnola: “Always. That was light work. Ball is in his court now.”

Worst-case interpretation: Gassnola was saying that he was able to pay Falmagne enough so that he could pay back Under Armour the money that that apparel company allegedly had paid to Falmagne to steer De Sousa to Maryland.

Best-case interpretation: Knowing that Gassnola was tight with the guardian, Self was curious as to Gassnola’s feel for whether De Sousa would decommit from Maryland to come to Kansas.

The prosecution in this federal case is trying to prove that schools were victimized by Adidas, which defrauded them by paying athletes who promised with signatures on letters of intent that they will remain amateurs during their times at the school. The defense will try to prove that Adidas helped the schools because the coaches knew what was going on and if they didn’t know, it was because they didn’t want to know.

It’s always been my feeling that celebrity head coaches who build programs in part with athletes steered through third parties don’t want to know of anything outside the rules going on, the third party knows they don’t want to know, and makes sure they don’t know. Some coaches toss assistants in front of the oncoming train. In the case of other head coaches, cooler ones, it’s understood by all that assistants also want to know even less than Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame professes to know before being bribed with a candy bar.

That sort of willful ignorance falls under the umbrella of plausible deniability, if only barely.

That does not, however, mean that a coaching staff ignorant to rule-breaking necessarily is protected from having victories and banners stripped for playing games with an athlete found later to be ineligible. If the NCAA looks completely the other way here, this case could lead to more rule-breaking, not less.

Weighing in KU's favor, nobody so far has said that KU coaches knew about any payments to recruits. Given that, if the NCAA investigates and finds the same, it could rule that because it couldn't tie KU to Adidas' actions, there is no reason to penalize KU. However, the NCAA removed the loophole that enabled Cam Newton to continue to play for Auburn after the NCAA found that his father had shopped him for $200,000, but did not find that either the athlete or the school knew anything about it, so no telling where this could end up.

It’s still early to draw any conclusions, but it felt as if it grew more than a day later Monday.


Suzi Marshall 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for this Tom. A basis for western law is the presumption of innocence. I understand all about the Cam Newton loophole being closed. However, in this case we a talking about a 3rd party international business that is active with the sport across the board. I don't see how Adidas paying anyone violates any law or even defrauds any entity. It seems the defrauding party would be the players and parents/guardians accepting the funds then lying about it to the school. Since there wouldn't be much (any) support trying to prosecute the players, it seems they are going for the next best option, which seems to be a stretch. Guilty or no guilty, I don't see the NCAA doing anything punitive. Who would the NCAA punish and how far back do they go? Do they nail UCLA for Sam Gilbert?

Per the Rice comments, the NCAA will modernize their ridiculous (and perhaps illegal) rules.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

The Cam Newton loophole was eliminated years ago. No need to even mention.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 7 months ago

I can absolutely see the NCAA jumping all over this and I don't think it matters if Adidas is found to be innocent or guilty. This trial was never about KU but the fallout from the trials testimony is providing ammunition for the NCAA. How can they not act on it?

Gavin Fritton 3 years, 7 months ago

First, the presumption of innocence is generally applied in a criminal context. Gassnola has the presumption of innocence because his 5th Amendment rights have attached and he stands to be deprived of his liberty (via prison sentence) or his property (via a fine/penalty) as a result of the trial. Gassnola is considered innocent until the DOJ proves him guilty.

An NCAA investigation, though, isn't a criminal trial. Any school that wants to join the NCAA has to agree to abide by NCAA rules, by-laws and regulations. And the NCAA doesn't guarantee a presumption of innocence to its member institutions. In fact, while it is not codified, one could argue (and many have argued) that once the NCAA sends a school a Notice of Inquiry (or Notice of Allegations, etc.) there's a presumption of guilt. Since the NCAA is both a private institution and a voluntary one, no one is forced to abide by their rules except by their own choice. Personally, my view is that the NCAA is a cartel. But it's hard to complain about the way a member of a cartel is treated by the rest of the cartel.

Second, the DOJ's superseding indictment makes it very clear how Adidas was committing fraud. At a basic level, fraud is when "someone" misrepresents a material fact to induce someone to rely on that misrepresentation to their own detriment.

Here, they were paying players to go to specific schools. Those payments rendered the players ineligible. The schools gave scholarships to players under the belief that the players would be eligible. The misrepresentation is that Adidas hid their scheme from the schools. Those schools, notably were business partners of Adidas. KU should be allowed to conduct itself as if its business partner and sponsor wouldn't take any action that would jeopardize KU's business interests. Additionally, per the indictment, scheme participants deprived the schools of necessary, significant information about the eligibility of their athletes. Either KU knew about the payments or they didn't. If they knew and took the players and put them on the court anyway, then the school committed a major violation. If the schools DIDN'T know, they didn't know because Adidas was working at cross-purposes to the school and prevented KU from knowing about their eligibility. In other words, if KU wasn't a victim, they were breaking the rules. Those are the only possibilities. I'll link to the indictment below.

You have a point about the players potentially ALSO defrauding their schools, but 1) that doesn't mean that Adidas DIDN'T commit fraud as well; and 2) that means that, at a minimum, Adidas induced the players to commit fraud. And inducing someone to commit a crime is also a crime.

None of this is to say that KU (or anyone else) will or won't be punished or investigated by the NCAA. And I certainly hope they're not.


Suzi Marshall 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for this. I've been around enough attorney's to conclude you are probably one yourself. You hit it exactly what I'm trying to better understand....if Adidas 'induced someone to commit a crime' is that legally a crime by Adidas in a court of law? Every day we see reported news of people/organizations inducing their followers to do this or that, yet those people/organizations are never charged with a crime when the events they encourage happen.

I suppose we'd need to look at the current executed contact between KU and Adidas to better understand their liability.

Steve Zimmerman 3 years, 7 months ago

Are these ppl that careless? They should've left any trails like, SMS. Go under the radar. Put on wigs, fake tattoos, or something. Watch the Americans, dang it. Who's our next candidate HC?

Joe Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

...I come back to you now at the turn of the tide.

Gassnola (to Bill Self) via text message: “In my mind, it’s KU, bill self. Everyone else fall into line. Too (expletive) bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I am RIGHT. The more you win, have lottery pics [sic] and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”

Bill Self, in reply: “That’s how ur works. At UNC and Duke,” Self responded.

Gassnola's response: "...Kentucky as well."

Look at Bill Self's response. The "ur" is likely an autocorrect. "U" is close to "I" (one letter to the left on a standard keyboard), and the "R" is close to "T" (also one letter to the left). When Bill Self said "That's how ur works", he meant, "That's how it works...". But before we assume he was agreeing with Gassnola, consider the next line. "That's how it UNC and Duke." (...and therefore, presumably NOT how it works at Kansas.)

It appears that Bill Self might actually be disagreeing with Gassnola. That, while Gassnola's description of the way things ought to be is how it's done at Duke and UNC for big recruits, it's NOT the way Kansas does things. Now whether Coach Self was lamenting the difference or embracing it is open to interpretation.

Phil Leister 3 years, 7 months ago

Great observation. The "ur" thing was confusing and didn't make a ton of sense. While what you pose is just a theory, it does make sense. I'm trying to think of another logical explanation for that sentence including UNC and Duke and can't come up with anything.

Mike Barnhart 3 years, 7 months ago

"That's how (it) works for UNC and Duke" might mean, "We should be getting the same help from Adidas that UNC and Duke get from Nike!"

Barry Weiss 3 years, 7 months ago

Thanks for that view Joe, it does help me feel better.

Len Shaffer 3 years, 7 months ago

Well a lot is open to interpretation but it certainly doesn't look good.

Let's face it, if it was anyone else we would be crying bloody murder. OTOH, Bill Self has built up such a reputation for integrity over the years that it's really hard to believe he could be involved in all this.

I guess I'll just keep my fingers crossed, both that we don't get penalized and, even more importantly (at least for me), that Self truly didn't know anything about what was going on.

Mike Bennett 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't see much here. The question is money. Nothing wrong with asking a shoe company that sponsors an AAU team/coach to throw its weight behind a school. Putting in a good word or encouraging a recruit to be loyal to the brand is expected. Nothing in here about $$$. Only testimony is Self didn't know about the $$$. Emails don't contradict.

I'm more concerned with Silvio's eligibility. Everyone keeps throwing around the $20K figure, but the only first hand testimony is Fenny received $2,500 and not $20K due to the story breaking. No credible evidence on Maryland payment yet. Do you really stop a kid from playing for $2,500 or do you allow him to pay it back?

Phil Leister 3 years, 7 months ago

Why would Bill have willingly withheld Preston from competition last year if Bill was in the know that Preston and Silvio took money in exchange for their commitment? The whole Preston situation calms my worries a bit.

Joe Ross 3 years, 7 months ago

Because having knowledge about a money exchange and having fear of getting caught in assisting with it (which led to Preston's benching) are two different things.

Remember, the money exchange occurred well prior to the car accident.

Phil Leister 3 years, 7 months ago

True. So following that line of thought, Bill only benched Preston because the car crash brought other KU eyes onto that car (police, compliance people, etc) so then, and only then, did Bill think "Oh crap we've gotta bench him because compliance is going to dig into that car, and prior to now only I knew where he got the money to buy it."

I don't know.

Craig Carson 3 years, 7 months ago

I think every KU fan can agree that these texts arent a good look...we would much rather have had no contact between Gassnola and the KU coaching staff..but nothing fully implicates KU or Self in any wrong matter how it looks from the outside

Mike Barnhart 3 years, 7 months ago

The feds case depends on Adidas defrauding Bill Self. It's simply not plausible that HCBS is willing to lie to the feds about his knowledge of ShoeCo payments, thus encouraging the feds to pursue this entire case with KU as the victim. If it ever came to light that his lies were the basis for a fed investigation they'd follow him like Henry Hill for the rest of his life.

Doug Longstaff 3 years, 7 months ago

The great part about this article is how it reminds us that yesterday's information was nothing new. The sensational headline from yesterday was "Kansas knew about Adidas activity...." Well, it wasn't wrong.....but in October of 2017, Bill STATED that he knew about Adidas activity, and said that everyone else should know about it, too.

It'll be up to the NCAA to decide if and how severely they want to punish KU for DeSousa's guardian taking money. I don't think there's anything in Bill's texts that constitute a further violation.

Dillon Davis 3 years, 7 months ago

Me personally, I'm just concerned with what the NCAA is going to do. I think Bill is in the clear here from the trial, but if they claim that De Sousa is ineligible, what does that mean for our season last year? I don't want the Big 12 championship or Final Four taken away.

Now if he is ruled ineligible for this season and we just have to sit him, well then that's unfortunate for Silvio because I don't think he knew what his American guardian was doing, he was just following his direction most likely because he trusted him. But if Silvio is ruled ineligible for the upcoming season and that's all that the NCAA brings down us, I could live with that.

Self keeps saying he'll play Silvio, but surely he won't now right?? The way the NCAA moves like a snail on these things when it comes to KU players, I doubt we'll have any kind of word from the NCAA before Nov. 6 so it's going to be up to Self to make the decision.

John Strayer 3 years, 7 months ago

My main question in this is...if Self/KU know about payments that violate NCAA rules...why the hell use text messages communicate? That method of communication leaves a electronic trail all over the place. Better to keep all that on phone calls and hope no one is making recordings or there aren't any wire taps. Hopefully this means Self is truthful in his quotes a year or so ago.

I know KU won't address any of this mess publically at this time...but something needs to be sad. KU/Self will be guilty in public opinion as the average fan will take this steaming pile of garbage and accept it as gospel truth. So even if KU/Self are exonerated in this mess there will remain a huge PR nightmare to address. Then again...haters gonna hate so maybe it doesn't matter.

Mike Hart 3 years, 7 months ago

I find it interesting that you say.. ."haters are gonna hate"... when you are an example of KU fans are just going to believe the best intentions. You refer to the whole Adidas investigation and involvement with Self / KU as a "steaming pile of garbage". In reality, we don't know what really happened, and I'm guessing we have seen about 3% of the overall information to this story. Stop defending Self and KU.. and others should stop blaming Self and KU.. .and see where exactly this lands once the case is over. My biggest problem with the whole text exchange... is when Gassnola asked Self to get in touch with him when he had 5 minutes.. and when Self was "alone". What difference does it make if Self is alone when he had 5 minutes. There is definitely a garbage smell to this somewhere, not sure if it involves Self... but something stinks.

Dan Blomgren 3 years, 7 months ago

Or maybe Gassnola just wanted his undivided attention. You make it sound sleazy only because that's what you are looking for! How about we give him the benefit of the doubt?

Dane Pratt 3 years, 7 months ago

"The defense will try to prove that Adidas helped the schools because the coaches knew what was going on and if they didn’t know, it was because they didn’t want to know." That's my interpretation and I would not be surprised if the NCAA is fully aware as well.

Phil Leister 3 years, 7 months ago

The NCAA definitely knows. But they don't have the resources/abilities to catch everyone. It took the FBI to do that, and they just happened to zero in on adidas.

Shannon Gustafson 3 years, 7 months ago

Not really, of the coaches implicated it's 1 adidas school, 2 UA schools, and 3 Nike schools. That's not zeroing in on Adidas, it's just the first one to go to trial.

Barry Weiss 3 years, 7 months ago

Any truth to this story that Silvio has signed some contract with an agent? Not recently I don't believe, but something back last year.

Shannon Gustafson 3 years, 7 months ago

This is what held up his eligibility last year. A handwriting expert couldn't determine it was actually SDS that signed with an agent & pro team and therefore he was cleared.

Tony Bandle 3 years, 7 months ago

All kidding aside, this is what I truly believe will happen this season:

1] Silvio will be allowed to play but it won't be till the second semester.

2] No victories, titles or NCAA appearances by Kansas will be required to be vacated.

3] Our two top recruits WILL commit to Kansas for next season.

4] After this season, the Kansas Staff will reevaluate the school's relationship with Adidas but unless something drastic happens, KU will probably stay with them.

5] Kansas will win another conference title but I don't see them quite making it to the Final Four.

6] Dok, Grimes, the Lawsons and Moore will test the NBA waters early.

7] LaGerald Vick will be the surprise player of the season.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree with you, but wouldn't be surprised to see him test the waters either. With Garrett and Dotson returning and Mac coming in, and no penalty for testing the waters, it makes sense for the third year sophomore to get himself looked at.

Eric TheCapn 3 years, 7 months ago

Unless Vick wins the Wooden Award, he couldn't surprise me.

Jonathan Allison 3 years, 7 months ago

Tom, thanks so much for the important context. I don't remember reading those comments from Bill Self from last year.

They really do indicate that he doesn't believe that there was anything unusual about having characters like Gassnola and Gatto pitching your program to recruits, and that context totally changes the way that I interpret the text messages about Silvio and Falmagne, especially the "gotta get some real guys" comment. And Gassnola's comment about his discussion with Fenny being "light work".

I am curious though, at what point in time did the FBI indictment come out and Gassnola, Gatto, Code, and Dawkins were all named? It seems like that was later in the season last year, but I could be wrong since I was a little late to the party involving this corruption scandal last year.

Whether the names of Gassnola and Gatto, et al had been made public yet or not, those comments from Bill Self seem to indicate that he maybe knew that KU was about to be dragged into the mire. Certainly, that's an assumption, and it wouldn't be unsurprising for him to come out and defend KU when other schools are getting hammered with recruiting allegations, but to specifically argue that having third party apparel companies recruiting on your school's behalf is normal strikes me as a bit of a defensive position.

John Gill 3 years, 7 months ago

The closest comparable scenario I can think of to this is doping in professional cycling. Lance Armstrong and a bunch of otherwise stand-up guys violated rules and laws because that’s “how it worked” in the top flight cycling teams of the era. Ultimately, every top cyclist of that era was proven to be doping. Now you have every top hoops program and a handful of HoF coaches essentially implicated in a pay-to-play scheme in violation of the sport’s rules and probably some federal laws as well. It’s just a matter of time now before all of them get tarnished. We all want to believe that Self runs a squeaky-clean program but truth is even w/o hard evidence of rules violations, any association with a scumbag like Gassnola is like algae on the hull of your pretty yacht...everyone sees it when the boat is pulled out of the water into the light.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 7 months ago

All I know is that I can't wait for Self to explain his side of things. Considering his track record of sitting players with eligibility questions, I find it hard to fathom that he would be party to any of this shady business. He deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt; but we all have to admit that the optics are really, really bad.

Shannon Gustafson 3 years, 7 months ago

Regardless of his explanation, the reality is that is was a "don't ask-don't tell" relationship, just like it is everywhere (except where they have proof assistant or even head coaches were directly involved). The coaches know the shoe companies are helping bring them recruits and they know this likely means they are doing something shady, they just don't ask about it and the shoe companies don't tell them about it.

Bryce Landon 3 years, 7 months ago

Then the shoe companies need to be removed from the picture. The NCAA needs to create its own brand of apparel for all its member schools and no longer allow Adidas or Nike or Under Armor to supply apparel (or recruits) to the schools. That would eliminate a substantial amount of corruption not only in college basketball, but in college football as well.

Lawrence McGlinn 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree in principle and in terms of ethics, but think of how deep the shoe companies are in the process from middle school through college to the pros. AAU tournaments, sports "academies," travel all over the place, "handlers" making money. It is a cash cow, and KU, Self and his staff are among the biggest beneficiaries.

Shannon Gustafson 3 years, 7 months ago

I don't think it would change anything other than stop the colleges from getting those big shoe contracts. The shoe companies will still be out there trying to get the kids to stick with their brand (by paying them while in high school or college) with the hopes that they also sign with them in the NBA.

John Gill 3 years, 7 months ago

I would say let the kids have sponsorships but dont let the schools get money from the apparel companies. That money and that relationship is what taints the program ultimately. At best, apparel sponsorships should be treated like TV contracts...the money goes to the league and split amongst the member schools. Then the individual program is removed from the incentive to bend the rules to channel money to the players.

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