The NCAA won't be able to get its hands on one of the most intriguing wiretaps obtained by the FBI in an investigation of basketball recruiting violations involving the University of Kansas, according to a CBS Sports report.
But KU may soon face a reckoning with the NCAA anyway. CBS Sports reported on Wednesday that the NCAA will deliver Notices of Allegations — the NCAA's equivalent of an indictment — to at least six college basketball programs this summer. The allegations will be for Level 1 violations, which are deemed the most serious and can include penalties such as scholarship reductions and postseason bans.
The NCAA official did not reveal the identities of the six schools, but said two "high profile" programs would receive notices of allegations by early July. The other four programs should expect notices by the end of the summer, and the NCAA official said other cases are still in the works. It already has been reported that KU is under investigation by the NCAA.
Stan Wilcox, NCAA vice president for regulatory affairs, told CBS Sports that the NCAA had been asked to hold off on taking action on recruiting violations until federal fraud trials in the matter were completed. Now that those trials are done, schools should expect action soon, Wilcox said.
"So now that it's over, we're going to be moving forward with a number of Level 1 cases that will help people realize that 'Yeah, the enforcement staff was in a position to move forward," Wilcox said. "There's even another group of cases that we are still working on. The main thing is we're up and ready. We're moving forward and you'll see consequences."
During the CBS Sports interview, Wilcox did mention KU specifically. He confirmed that the NCAA was unable to obtain a wiretap the FBI has of assistant KU basketball coach Kurtis Townsend and an Adidas representative talking about the role money or other inducements might play in landing prized recruit Zion Williamson.
Wilcox said because the Townsend wiretap was not admitted as evidence in the trial, the NCAA could not obtain the wiretap and can only ask Townsend about it during its investigation into KU. Although the recording was discussed in court, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not allow it to be entered as evidence for procedural reasons.
"Any wiretap that was introduced into evidence [we can use]," Wilcox said, according to the report. "It wasn't. That was leaked. We don't have access to that.
"We can use the information that was put in the media but … we would take that information and when we sit down and talk with the coach we would use that as [a talking point]."
A representative for KU Athletics did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment.
The phone conversation between Townsend and former amateur coach and Adidas representative Merl Code was brought up by Mark Moore, an attorney for Code, to try to get it admitted as evidence to support his client. In a tapped phone call in which the two were discussing the recruitment of Williamson, Townsend said, “Hey, but between me and you, you know, he asked about some stuff. You know? And I said, ‘Well, we’ll talk about that, you decide.'”
Code said, “I know what he’s asking for. He’s asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he’s asking for cash in the pocket and he’s asking for housing for him and his family.”
In reply, Townsend said, “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
Whether the “opportunities” were for Williamson or a family member is not clear. Williamson took a recruiting visit to KU, but committed to Duke to play basketball. He is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft later this month.
Kaplan said the wiretap wasn’t relevant to the case because the conversation happened after the crimes of which Code was accused.
However, some wiretaps or text messages in the trial could be used by the NCAA for its investigation into KU, since they were admitted into evidence. The NCAA opened its investigation of KU after the trial revealed KU coach Bill Self’s relationship with former Adidas consultant Thomas “T.J.” Gassnola.
Gassnola testified that he paid the families of players to steer them to KU, including $90,000 to the mother of former KU player Billy Preston and $2,500 to the guardian of current KU player Silvio De Sousa.
In text messages used as evidence in the trial, Gassnola and Self appeared to discuss the recruitment of De Sousa. But Gassnola testified that he never told Self about the payments.
After the trial, Kaplan sentenced Adidas executive James Gatto to nine months in prison and business manager Christian Dawkins and Code to six months in prison for fraud convictions related to their admitted effort to channel secret payments to the families of top recruits, luring them to major basketball programs sponsored by Adidas, including KU.
The NCAA also suspended De Sousa for two seasons because of his involvement in the scandal. When KU appealed the suspension, the university considered Gassnola a “booster,” which may be used against the program when the NCAA considers recruiting violations. Universities generally are held liable for any violations committed by their boosters.
But KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said that KU was considering Gassnola a booster “only as a hypothetical for the purposes of reinstatement.” William H. Brooks, an NCAA rules expert, previously told the Journal-World that KU can change its opinion on Gassnola’s relationship to the university because the cases are heard by different NCAA committees. Ultimately, it will be up to NCAA officials on whether Gassnola is ruled a booster of the program.
After the appeal, the NCAA reduced De Sousa’s suspension to one season, which he served during the 2018-19 season.