Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Kansas gets three-year probation, Bill Self dodges penalty as NCAA issues ruling in infractions case

In a long-anticipated ruling, the Independent Resolution Panel (IRP), a judicial board part of the Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), ruled on Wednesday that Kansas men’s basketball would have to vacate 15 of its wins from the 2017-18 season. That includes removing from all official records any formal acknowledgement of its 2018 Final Four appearance, which means the banner inside Allen Fieldhouse commemorating that Final Four appearance will be coming down as will any trophies and other hardware associated with that season.

The vacation of wins stems from illegal payments made by a former Adidas associate to former Kansas player Silvio De Sousa. After an initial investigation into his freshman season regarding his eligibility, De Sousa was eventually cleared to play. This case, after the fact, ruled him retroactively ineligible for that season, prompting the stripping of wins and the Final Four. 

All of this stems from Kansas’ involvement and discovery that came about in the infamous FBI investigation in college basketball. It’s a story that came to life in September 2017. More than six years later, the news on Wednesday officially closes the elongated saga.

Aside from the 2018 Final Four banner being taken away and losing 15 wins (Kentucky is now, narrowly, No. 1 ahead of KU in the all-time wins list for men’s college basketball), the ruling is a huge win for Kansas. The school got its high-profile case of five Level I allegations from the NCAA reduced to the Level II and Level III variety in the eyes of the IRP. The program avoided a postseason ban, while head coach Bill Self was assessed just one Level III violation.

From the IARP’s release: “The hearing panel concluded that apparel company outside consultant was a representative of Kansas’ athletics interests beginning August 9, 2017. His actions after he became a representative of athletics interests resulted in two violations in the men’s basketball program for the institution. Additionally, the hearing panel also found a violation for the institution related to representative of athletics interests No. 1. The hearing panel found no credible and persuasive information in the case record to support the allegations that the institution failed to cooperate, lacked institutional control and failed to monitor its men’s basketball program.”

Here’s what the IRP handed down Wednesday: 

a. Public reprimand and censure.
b. Vacation of team and individual records.
• Kansas shall vacate all regular season and conference tournament wins, records and participation in which men’s basketball student-athlete No. 1 competed while ineligible in the 2017-18 academic year.
• If men’s basketball student-athlete No. 1 participated in any NCAA postseason competition at any time while the student-athlete was ineligible, Kansas’ participation in the postseason contests in which the ineligible competition occurred shall be vacated.
• The individual records related to men’s basketball student-athlete No. 1’s participation while ineligible shall be vacated. However, the individual finishes and any awards for all eligible student-athletes shall be retained.
• Kansas’ records regarding its men’s basketball program, as well as the records of its head men’s basketball coach, shall reflect the vacated records and be recorded in all publications in which such records are reported.
• Any institution that may subsequently hire the affected head men’s basketball coach shall similarly reflect the vacated wins in his career records.
• Head coaches with vacated wins on their records may not count the vacated wins toward specific honors or career victory “milestones.”
• Any public references to the vacated records shall be removed from the athletics department stationery and banners displayed in public areas.
• Any trophies awarded by the NCAA in the affected sport program shall be returned to the Association.
• The institution’s media relations director must contact the NCAA and appropriate conference officials to identify student-athletes and contests impacted by the penalties and then provide the NCAA with a written report detailing those discussions no later than 14 days following the infractions decision release. A copy of the report shall also be delivered to the NCAA hearing operations staff at the same time.

The school will also go on three years’ probation.

“The hearing panel was intentional in not prescribing penalties that would have a negative impact on current student-athletes,” the IARP’s news release stated. “The hearing panel also applied significant weight to Kansas’ self-imposed penalties, especially the men’s basketball recruiting restrictions for the 2022-23 academic year.”

Kansas previously self-imposed the following penalties:

  • A four-game suspension for Self and assistant Kurtis Towsend, in addition to multiple weeks of recruiting taken away from both coaches
  • A reduction of eight total official visits in 2022-23 and 2023-24
  • Three scholarships taken off the books from 2023-25
  • A six-week ban on contacts with recruits and unofficial visits in 2022, plus 13 more recruiting days eliminated during the 2022-23 calendar 

It’s a near-unprecedented turn of events for a head coach at a power-conference school. The previous five Level I allegations attached to Self and his program were the most severe of any men’s basketball program in the IARP’s crosshairs. Included was a lack of institutional control and a head-coach responsibility charge, both of which were dropped. No additional penalties were levied against Self or Townsend.

Wednesday’s ruling serves as the concluding act of adjudication to one of the more notorious and criticized trials in the history of college sports. Kansas was one of nearly a dozen programs ensnared in the infamous 2017 FBI investigation into corruption and bribery in college basketball. More than six years after that investigation went public, the IRP’s ruling is the final piece of action tied to a cumbersome catalog of inconsistent attempts at NCAA justice. 

Kansas, like the other five schools (Arizona, Louisville, Memphis, NC State, LSU), dodged significant retribution. Years ago, when this case was unfolding, speculation from some around the sport was that there would be a cascade of epic punishments for coaches and schools alike. For the most part, that didn’t happen. 

Kansas is projected to be the No. 1 team for the upcoming season. Self will now chase his fourth official Final Four appearance (and fifth unofficial). 

Ironically, Kansas accepted the narrative in federal court that it was a victim in this case — an argument that helped the federal government, in part, win its two high-profile trials. Government lawyers hammered home that schools were victims of fraud (as opposed to coyly willful accomplices that understood the covert nature of NCAA cheating) after being put into vulnerable positions by rogue middlemen who were facilitating payments and promises to basketball players. It led to a sweeping victory for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in 2018 and 2019

As far as the NCAA was concerned, Kansas was no victim — it was partly a perpetrator, thus the need for this years-long case. Former Adidas associate T.J. Gassnola allegedly helped arrange for payments to former Kansas recruits/players Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. Its probe took more than four years to conclude.

“The hearing panel found credible and persuasive information supports the conclusion that apparel company outside consultant became a representative of Kansas’ athletics interests August 9, 2017, when he was asked to participate in recruiting activities on behalf of Kansas,” per the IARP’s release. “However, the hearing panel found credible and persuasive information does not demonstrate that apparel company, apparel company employee No. 1 or apparel company employee No. 2 were representatives of Kansas’ athletics interests.”

The representatives alluded to above are Gassnola and former Adidas executive Jim Gatto.

Those details first came to light in federal court in 2018 and were the basis for the notice of allegations against KU that came down in 2019. In total, the IARP accounted for $6,700 in impermissible cash and gifts afforded to De Sousa and Preston (who enrolled but never played at Kansas following a car accident in November of his freshman season).

The only reason the IARP came into existence was because of the FBI’s investigation, which prompted former NCAA president Mark Emmert to appoint a special commission, led by Condoleezza Rice, whose group ultimately recommended the doomed alternative judicial body. With the cessation of the IARP, the NCAA will resume adjudicating all of its infractions cases moving forward, albeit with yet another made-over model

More than six years after a bombshell story led some to believe widespread change and massive carnage was coming to college basketball, we instead see a new landscape in college sports where players are more empowered and wealthier than ever before thanks to name, image and likeness rights. Had these rules been in place in 2017, the FBI’s investigation may never have gotten off the ground.

The federal government’s covert operation led to charges against 10 men, four of whom are Black former college basketball assistants (Tony Bland, Lamont Evans, Chuck Person, Book Richardson) who’ve not been welcomed back into the sport since. 

Because the IARP process has no appeal portion, the case is closed and Wednesday’s ruling is final. The IARP will now cease to exist, and in the modern era of NIL, the idea of what does and does not constitute rule-breaking in college sports has never been hazier and more up for debate. 

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