Saturday, February 16, 2019

To avoid sanctions, KU basketball may need to convince NCAA Gassnola is not a booster

A University of Kansas-branded Adidas basketball is pictured in March 2018.

A University of Kansas-branded Adidas basketball is pictured in March 2018.


The biggest win or loss for the University of Kansas basketball program may not come on the court this year. It may come down to whether KU leaders can convince NCAA officials that a man at the center of a pay-for-play college basketball recruiting scandal isn’t a booster of KU.

A pair of NCAA rules experts both agreed this week that if T.J. Gassnola, who has already pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges, is found to be a booster of the university, the entire KU men’s basketball program may well be hit with penalties from the NCAA.

William H. Brooks, an Alabama lawyer who has represented universities facing NCAA infractions, and Josephine Potuto, a University of Nebraska College of Law professor and former chair of the NCAA committee on infractions, both recently told the Journal-World that an individual — even one like Gassnola who was employed by KU's apparel partner Adidas — can be declared a booster.

Brooks said the corporate connection may create a bit more of a gray area when trying to determine whether Gassnola is a booster. Potuto was sure an individual with a corporate connection could still be considered a booster.

But both experts agree that if an individual designated as a KU booster recruits an athlete, it significantly increases the stakes for KU as it relates to future penalties from the NCAA.

“If an institution knows someone is engaging in recruiting, that makes that person a booster, and it becomes an institutional violation,” Brooks said. “If the institution doesn’t know that a nonbooster is engaging in impermissible recruiting activity, there’s just an eligibility problem for the player.”

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.”

In an October trial, Gassnola, who is a former Adidas consultant, revealed he paid the guardian of KU basketball player Silvio De Sousa $2,500 to steer De Sousa toward KU, which is sponsored by Adidas. KU chose to have De Sousa sit out from official games this season while awaiting word from the NCAA on his eligibility. That ruling came on Feb. 1, when the NCAA found De Sousa ineligible until the 2020-21 season.

When KU asked the NCAA to rule on De Sousa, the NCAA required KU to consider Gassnola a “booster,” KU athletic director Jeff Long said in a Feb. 2 press conference.

But Long said that KU was considering Gassnola a booster “only as a hypothetical for the purposes of reinstatement.” He said KU disagrees with NCAA staff on how to “define Gassnola’s role in all of this.” The Journal-World has requested for Long to clarify what he meant by “only as a hypothetical,” but he has not been available for an interview.

Although KU considered Gassnola a booster in De Sousa’s reinstatement case, the university could change its mind and not consider him a booster when the NCAA looks at possible institutional violations. Brooks said a university could do that because player eligibility and institutional violations are handled by separate NCAA committees.

Brooks said, in an institutional violation case, the NCAA would need to make specific allegations of misconduct before the university could take an official position on whether an individual is a booster.

But whether the NCAA will consider Gassnola a KU booster when considering institutional violations may come down to whether the university knew or should have known what he and Adidas were up to, Potuto said.

“The question would be if the school had systems in place to detect such booster activity,” she said.

Brooks agreed that if a university claimed it did not know an individual was recruiting on its behalf, the NCAA would need to determine if the university should have noticed indicators of what that individual was up to and whether that makes them a booster.

“The significance of that designation is that an institution is responsible for the conduct of its boosters,” he said. “But the definition of a booster is very, very broad and could reach any individual or entity. The actual definition encompasses not only individuals but corporate entities or any other organization.”

Brooks said there could be a gray area when it comes to a company’s involvement. He noted that companies and their employees are not the “traditional booster” — such as an overeager fan or an alumnus who donates money to a university — which could complicate the matter.

“It definitely has the potential (to add a gray area),” he said of company involvement. “Obviously with an organization, it’s much larger and it’s harder to control, as opposed to a subset of fans.”

In KU’s case, Gassnola testified that he was in close contact with KU basketball coach Bill Self and assisted in recruiting players to KU. But Gassnola also testified he never informed Self or assistant coach Kurtis Townsend of any payments to players or their guardians.

But both NCAA experts said the issue may not be whether KU coaches knew of the payment, but whether they knew that Gassnola was involved in any recruiting activity on behalf of KU.

Text messages revealed in court appeared to show Self and Gassnola discussing De Sousa in vague terms.

Text messages dated Aug. 9, 2017, showed Townsend sending a message to Gassnola that said, “Coach Self just talked to Fenny let me know how it goes,” referring to Fenny Falmagne, De Sousa's guardian.

Later that day, Gassnola sent a message to Self that said, “Hall of Fame. When you have 5 minutes and your [sic] alone call me.”

Gassnola sent another message after Self did not respond that said, “I talked to Fenny.”

Self responded, asking, “We good?”

“Always,” Gassnola said. “That’s [sic] was light work. Ball is in his court now.”

In another text message shown in court, on Aug. 19, 2017, just days before KU announced a 12-year agreement with Adidas, Gassnola sent a text message to Self thanking him for helping to finish the deal.

“I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys,” Self said in reply.

Gassnola replied 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.”

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

“I promise you I got this,” Gassnola wrote. “I have never let you down. Except Dyondre lol. We will get it right.”

Gassnola said in court the name “Dyondre” was in reference to Deandre Ayton. He previously testified in court that he tried to recruit Ayton to attend KU and he felt he let Self down when he failed and Ayton attended the University of Arizona, a Nike-sponsored school.

After the trial, Self said in a press conference that shoe companies have an influence at all levels of basketball, including the high school level.

“They work hard to develop brand loyalty with top high school prospects and they have some influence with them, which is totally permissible under NCAA guidelines, just like (a) high school coach could, an AAU coach, a trusted adviser and especially a parent,” he said.

Self said there are more third-party groups influencing players than just shoe companies, and that it would be impossible to track all of them.

“To say everyone should know everything that’s going on, I think that would be difficult to do,” he said at the time. “I’m not shucking responsibility at all. I won’t run from this.”


Larry Knzas 3 years, 3 months ago

How many times can the same article be rewritten with a different headlines, saying exactly the same thing?

Joe Joseph 3 years, 3 months ago

Am I the only one who really just does not give any * about this anymore?

Dyrk Dugan 3 years, 3 months ago

This is the biggest scam of a scandal story, possibly ever, in big time sports. The FBI started all of this: because of one guy, trying to get his sentence reduced for real crimes; for committing real fraud worth millions of dollars. He introduced them to Adidas, because of Pitino’s direct contract with them; that gave them the “in” to this wing of the fraud. Kansas is literally collateral damage in this drive by hit; and if the NCAA goes after us on this and penalizes us with vacated wins and tournament bans; it would be the most egregious overreach in collegiate sports history. One player, Preston, never played a minute for us. The other player, De Sousa, played 20 games, and it’s been documented, received no benefits. So here we are; the full force of the NCAA about to be unleashed with KU as the main target; all because a contracted employee, made payments to players on his own without our knowledge; and once we found about it, the players didn’t play. A sad time indeed.

Creg Bohrer 3 years, 3 months ago

I knew when the NCAA asked KU to consider Gassnola a booster that was a set up and I'm truly surprised that Long went along with the whole thing..

Edward Daub 3 years, 3 months ago

Right Arm! If you do an Internet Search on Gassnola + Boston Globe, you will find articles from way back in 2006 discussing Gassnola, Sneakers, and the New England Area. Had to chuckle at the Picture of Gassnola next to Calipari!

Dirk Medema 3 years, 3 months ago

Long went along with the NCAA's requirement to call Gassnola a booster because they refused to consider reinstating Silvio unless they did call him a booster.

It'll be next to impossible to convince them that what they required is not true.

Layne Pierce 3 years, 3 months ago

Just recently the NFL backed down when they realized that in court they could well lose to Colin K. and his buddy.

I think KU should really consider busting this NCAA bogus system wide open in court. If the NCAA falls apart, who gives a damn, especially if they are acting in a capricious inconsistent manner.

For example, why shouldn't the NCAA be put on probation for making Silvio eligible in the first place? If KU is supposed to know everything that is going on, why shouldn't the NCAA have to know?

Why didn't North Carolina get a real punishment for the tuitor scandal, and why is no one seriously investigating how Zion Williamson got to Duke?

Riddle me that Batman.

I think it is time for the schools of the NCAA to get together and decide to either end this charade or remove the vagaries and inconsistencies of enforcement and punishment that are the hallmark of the present system.


Barry Weiss 3 years, 3 months ago

this whole thing is a joke if they single out KU, when it appears that every top program, who has good players going there because of the tradition of the program, then has some shoe company personnel trying to glob on to that player. I'm convinced that 99% of players go to KU, Kentucky, Duke, etc. because of the program and the head coach, not for some BS 2,500 payment. I call BS on this whole thing. If the NCAA goes after KU, I hope KU fights any penalty with every available resource to bring the NCAA down. KU brings a lot to money to the table for the NCAA and the NCAA better remember that. Bums!

Dustin Peterson 3 years, 3 months ago

I love how KUSports is bringing the opinions of legal experts into these articles! For those of you who may want to know more about the process used by those experts, I hope to bring you information to compliment Sports Law stories.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 3 months ago

I’m not going to pretend we are choir boys in all this but the way the NCAA is using Silvio as a sacrificial lamb is in poor form given the NCAA is supposed to be looking after the interests of the student-athlete.

Edward Daub 3 years, 3 months ago

Interesting that Maryland's Bruno Fernando from Angola (who has the same Guardian as Silvio) is eligible and stomping on a Nebraska head.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 3 months ago

There are all sorts of ironies and inconsistencies in all this. Haven't even gotten to Under Armour and Nike.

Brad Watson 3 years, 3 months ago

We are guilty....but so is every other school...this is the way it works everywhere.....but ...Hey....PENALTIES ARE COMING.....SO GET READY FOR IT....but we will survive this .....we were ratted out guess who?

Michael Maris 3 years, 3 months ago

To me, the NCAA played a Thug by instructing Kansas to admit Gassnola was a Booster. Sounds like a legitimate reason to sue the NCAA for their hypocritical behavior and actions. Turning a blind eye and protecting ACC, B1G and SEC Elite Schools. While forcing every other paying NCAA member to pay for the Elite Schools non-compliance behavior. Great example, North Carolina vs Missouri academic fraudulent cases. UNC didn't admit anything about their cases. Missouri did, UNC gets a pass. Missouri gets slapped on the head. NCAA doesn't investigate anything anymore. They just play their own waterboarding games with respective schools. In Kansas case, they're letting the FBI do their investigation work.

Dirk Medema 3 years, 3 months ago

The FBI has ability to investigate.

The NCAA has no ability to investigate.

KU/Silvio is now paying for the NCAA's inability to investigate the family of Alexander and Preston; the ones that did really take the money.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 3 months ago

This is far too big for the NCAA. In spite of all their financial resources they are incapable of sorting this out let alone dispensing fair and equitable punishment. Look at the Miami investigation and how badly they botched it. They will pick some sacrificial lambs to penalize to give the appearance they are in control but most programs will likely go unpunished.

Stuart Corder 3 years, 3 months ago

What is the status of Silvio De Sousa’s appeal? Is there an appeal date set or an expected timeframe?

How can it be possible for the NCAA to punish NCAA schools if it argued in court that it’s schools were defrauded?

Dirk Medema 3 years, 3 months ago

I think the appeal date is sometime in April.

April 2020

duke hester 3 years, 3 months ago

This whole mess is so sophomoric in that NCAA has caught themselves in a situation they can not get out of without showing their aZZ........and the virtual insanity of their rules which are applied ONLY as they wish...not with consistency nor logic nor any norm.

Mike Hart 3 years, 3 months ago

I find it rather sad and pathetic that most people on here are blaming the NCAA and not laying any fault at the feet of the coaching staff for getting caught up in this. If Gassnola is such a scumbag, then exactly why is Bill Self texting him? Asking about players' status? Why is Townsend not coming forward to explain his text messages? If KU had nothing to hide, then explain the messages. The bottom line is that it is irrelevant if everyone else is doing it too. This isn't anywhere near over... and guilty schools will be punished. If... and I mean IF.. .KU is guilty of some underhanded crap, then I have no sympathy for any penalties imposed. My only sympathies go to players who had nothing to do with this crap. Blaming the NCAA for KU aligning with Adidas.. seemingly improperly.. is no one's fault other than Kansas. Boo hoo hoo for Preston... and while it sucks for DeSousa... and if you want to feel sorry for DeSousa.. then blame KU for being a willing participant in this... co-responsible for his ineligibility.

Sorry, but if Adidas is providing benefits to players, parents and/or guardians... in order to steer them to KU... then that activity is no different than what a wayward booster does. Rather than cast judgement... wait and see what all comes out.

Andy Godwin 3 years, 3 months ago

Face it Self got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Clearly, KU knew what was going on and used this runner (maybe others) to steer players to KU, and yes it involved giving money to family members or guardians. Please don't be so naive and think that this did not happen. The question is really how many players' families or guardians, outside of Preston and De Sousa, accepted money to play at KU. It is a colossal mess and the NCAA needs to be prepared to penalize more than just KU. Some have speculated that the very harsh penalty against De Sousa was to send a message and hurt KU for their other digressions. As we saw, UNC was immune to their academic scandal while MU got hit hard for a single tutor advancing the education of some football and other players without their participation. Is the NCAA ready to one day truly penalize their basketball gems, i.e., Duke and UNC? This pay-to-play scam has been going on for a long while (UCLA's historic run) and now has permeated the AAU leagues. It has only gotten dirtier for some of the bigger programs with larger apparel contracts that recruit the top players. Families of top recruits use their talented children to make some money while biding their time for the NBA draft. Time to let these top kids skip one meaningless semester or two at a University and get paid to play in profession basketball minor leagues. And more importantly, time to get back to recruiting athletes who want to gain a University degree while playing a sport.

Dane Pratt 3 years, 3 months ago

Haven’t lost sight of the reason we are in this predicament is of our own doing and that we can expect to suffer the consequences. We already have. Whenever there has been an issue over eligibility Self has refused to suit up said player until the issues has been resolved. If we are guilty then Duke sure as hell is guilty as well and I keep seeing Williamson’s name in the box score. And that is a legitimate complaint against the NCAA. They have proven over decades their inability to dispense justice in a fair and equitable manner.

Terrence D Cernech 3 years, 3 months ago

The NCAA is completely arbitrary about its interpretation and enforcement of its rules and regulations. there have just been too many examples to list them all. I do remember back several years when they suspended a highly productive player for several games because his legal guardian who was active in the player's school's booster club in their home city a couple of thousand miles away from campus for paying for the player's trip home for a school break. Even though the "booster" was legally responsible for paying for the player's well being, the NCAA saw a violation.

Spencer Goff 3 years, 3 months ago

I would feel fine except for two things: 1) the NCAA has no moral compass and is trying to give the impression it does, and 2) Emmert is a tool and does not have the testicular fortitude to go after anybody bigger than KU, nor the compassion of his predecessor to actually look out for students.

So they will jack with KU to prove how awesome they are all the while never touching Duke, UNC, Ohio State, Alabama, Texas in any meaningful way.

This entire $hitshow is not about improving anything, it is about saving face and acting like the NCAA still matters.

Micky Baker 3 years, 2 months ago

KU's saving grace is that they didn't play De Sousa this season. It won't reflect well on the NCAA that right after the attorneys filed for De Sousa's reinstatement that they suspended him for 2 full seasons either. It kind of shows that the NCAA was being lazy and took revenge for the suit against them. There is no reason for there not to have been a resolution on this matter already.

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