LAWRENCE — The NCAA has made its case against Kansas.
The collegiate athletics governing body on Monday delivered a notice of allegations to KU, the university confirmed. The notice includes "potentially devastating allegations toward the men's basketball program" and additional alleged violations committed by the football program, according to Yahoo Sports, which cited unnamed sources in detailing the contents of the NCAA's charges.
According to the report, the NCAA hit the Jayhawk men's basketball program with three Level 1 violations and a charge of lack of institutional control, with a head coach responsibility charge leveled against Bill Self.
At the center of the Level 1 violations is the recruitment of Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, two players whose parents or guardians were allegedly paid by former Adidas fixer TJ Gassnola to steer each prospect to the Jayhawks during the recruiting process. Gassnola testified last October at the trials of three individuals charged with wire fraud in the federal government's probe into pay-for-play corruption in college basketball.
In an unsigned news release, KU said it "rejects the assertion that Adidas and Adidas employees and associates were boosters and agents" of the university and therefore acted on its behalf. KU, which has begun its detailed review of the notice and has for the first time been granted access to the NCAA's documents and evidence, has 90 days to submit a response, which will then be considered by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions.
The NCAA wrote in its notice that the enforcement staff believes a hearing panel could enter a show-cause order regarding Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend's alleged involvement in multiple violations.
"Self did not demonstrate that he promoted an atmosphere for compliance based on his personal involvement in violations," the NCAA wrote, "and despite having knowledge of potential or actual violations, he did not report any of these matters to athletics compliance staff to allow for an independent inquiry."
Self vigorously defended both himself and the men's basketball program in comments included in KU's news release, claiming the NCAA is reacting to "tremendous pressure" in the aftermath of the federal court proceedings and has responded in "an unnecessarily aggressive manner" with its "unsubstantiated" notice of allegations.
"In its haste and attempt to regain control, the enforcement staff has created a false narrative regarding me and our basketball program," Self said. "The narrative is based on innuendo, half-truths, misimpressions and mischaracterizations. In reality, we all know there is only one version of the truth. The truth is based on verifiable facts, and I am confident the facts we will demonstrate in our case will expose the inaccuracies of the enforcement staff’s narrative.
"I have always taken pride in my commitment to rules compliance and led programs that operate with integrity and within the rules, and I am proud of the success that we have achieved at each program along the way. Every student-athlete who has ever played for me and their families know we follow the rules."
Preston, a former five-star forward, never played an official contest for the Jayhawks in his lone collegiate campaign of 2017-18. He was voluntarily withheld until that January, when he left the program to sign with a Bosnian professional team. Gassnola testified that he paid Preston’s mother, Nicole Player, nearly $90,000 to direct her son to Adidas-partnered program KU.
De Sousa, a junior forward and former five-star prospect, did play for the 2017-18 squad, joining at midseason and helping in the team’s push to a Final Four berth. Gassnola acknowledged paying De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, $2,500 to help the recruit complete required classes, though he said a scheduled $20,000 payment was never made amid news of the government’s arrests in its probe of the sport in September 2017.
De Sousa was voluntarily withheld at the outset of his sophomore campaign and later ruled ineligible by the NCAA, but he won an eligibility appeal in May that reinstated him for the upcoming season.
While Gassnola stated under oath that neither Self nor any other KU coach knew of his involvement in recruiting, the NCAA may view the matter differently. In a text message sequence with Gassnola revealed in documents at last October’s trials, Self transitioned a conversation about the Jayhawks’ just-announced partnership extension with Adidas to what some have interpreted as an acknowledgement of Gassnola’s involvement in the program’s recruiting — “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys,” Self wrote.
Self said the NCAA allegations are "serious and damaging" to both himself and the university.
"I hate that KU has to go through this process," Self said. "With our staff’s full cooperation, these allegations will be addressed within NCAA procedures and with urgency and resolve. I will strenuously defend myself and the program, but I will respect the process and will not speak to the details of the case.”
Lawyers representing Self cited Gassnola's testimony as proof that the illicit payments were "deliberately concealed" from Self and KU.
"After a comprehensive FBI investigation in which KU cooperated fully, federal prosecutors determined that both KU and its athletics department had been the subject of a criminal conspiracy to defraud them," Scott Tompsett of Tompsett Collegiate Sports Law wrote Monday in a news release co-signed with Bill Sullivan of Pillsbury Winthrop LLP Washington D.C. "After several weeks of trial last year, the federal jury agreed, finding that KU and its employees were unaware that the defendants’ illicit payments compromised the eligibility of certain student-athletes. Indeed, federal Judge Lewis Kaplan has ordered that restitution payments be made to KU to compensate KU for the fraud that was committed against it."
Tompsett said he and Sullivan will in the upcoming months prepare a comprehensive and detailed written response to "each and every allegation."
"The NCAA has not alleged that coach Self was involved in or was knowledgeable about any illicit payments to recruits or student-athletes. The NCAA has not alleged that coach Self or anyone on his staff was involved in or had knowledge of any illicit payments," Tompsett wrote. "If illicit payments were made, coach Self and his staff were completely unaware of them."
The Level 2 violations against the KU football program allege former head coach David Beaty permitted a non-coaching staff member — former video coordinator Jeff Love — to on multiple occasions work directly with players, specifically the team's quarterbacks.
"Beaty did not demonstrate that he monitored his staff within the football program because Beaty knew that (Love) ... was a former college quarterbacks coach, spent time with the quarterbacks on the team and, on at least one occasion, Beaty observed Love alone in a meeting with the quarterbacks watching film," the NCAA wrote. "Beaty failed to identify the red flags involving Love and further failed to ask pointed questions to confirm compliance with NCAA legislation."
Beaty is suing KU for an unpaid $3 million buyout owed for his firing, though KU has responded that exit interviews at the end of the season revealed Beaty's knowledge of the NCAA violation, changing the nature of the firing to with cause and therefore voiding the buyout.
KU's release also included statements from chancellor Doug Girod, athletic director Jeff Long and football coach Les Miles.
"We strongly disagree with the allegations regarding men’s basketball. We fully support coach Self and his staff, and we will vigorously defend the allegations against him and our university," Long said. "As for the football violations, we fully met the requirements and our responsibility to the NCAA by self-reporting the violations when our compliance procedures uncovered the issues. I am confident in our process to respond to the allegations and look forward to resolving this matter.”
Girod said that KU takes allegations of ethical misconduct seriously but defended both Self and the men's basketball program.
"While we will accept responsibility for proven violations of NCAA bylaws, we will not shy away from forcefully pushing back on allegations that the facts simply do not substantiate," Girod said. "We stand firmly behind coach Self and our men’s basketball program, and we will continue to work diligently to do what is right.”
Miles, who is in his first season at KU, said he is "confident" in the process the university used to self-report the alleged violation that arose under his predecessor.
"Our entire focus is on the current season and the culture that we are building here at KU," Miles said. "The future is bright for Kansas football.”