Bill Self, Kansas double down on innocence as NCAA probe ramps up with season beginning
The Jayhawks' battle with the NCAA will occupy plenty of head space throughout the 2019-20 campaign
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Big 12 Media Day had to be out of the Sprint Center by 4 p.m. CT on Wednesday. The arena was being converted for WWE "SmackDown" on Friday night.
The No. 1 basketball story in this conference -- and maybe the nation -- continues to be the NCAA coming off the top rope at Kansas.
Feel free to envision blue blood being spilled. Kansas fans certainly have. Their coach, Bill Self, reiterated the school's stance that Kansas will not back down in the face of an NCAA investigation.
"Absolutely, Kansas will always prevail," Self told reporters at Big 12 Media Day. "Always. I'd like to think I will as well."
That was the message (re)sent Wednesday. It's clear Kansas has not backed off from one of the most strident responses ever to a major-case notice of allegations. At stake are the reputations of both Kansas basketball and Self. The charges in the NOA -- lack of institutional control and head coach responsibility -- suggest KU could be in line for a postseason ban and Self for a suspension of up to a year.
"You're looking at a positively worst-case scenario," Self said of a suspension. "That hasn't even been discussed."
Here's what has been discussed: Sources told CBS Sports Kansas will base part of its NCAA defense on Adidas representative T.J. Gassnola testifying that Kansas knew nothing about the tens of thousands of dollars he admitted to paying Jayhawks prospects.
Gassnola testified in October 2018 to paying the families of current player Silvio De Sousa and former player Billy Preston. Text messages were presented in court to show that Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend might have known about Gassnola's involvement. Gassnola testified that Self "never" knew about payments totaling $90,000 to Preston's family.
NCAA enforcement disagreed, saying in the NOA that the infractions panel that will decide the case "could" issue a show-cause order against Self and Townsend.
So, in essence, Kansas' case rests on the testimony of a man (Gassnola) who it says "victimized" the university with his payments. Meanwhile, the NCAA labeled Gassnola an agent and a booster to make its case against Kansas.
Complicating matters: Kansas reupped with Adidas for $190 million in its latest apparel deal. Not a bad pay day for a victim.
Further complicating matters: If Self/KU didn't know about Gassnola's payments, the NCAA is basically saying in the NOA that they should have known.
"I feel 100 percent confident that I'm going to be the coach here for a long time," Self said Wednesday. "I feel totally confident that, if I'm not the coach here for a long time, it's that I choose [not to be]."
What has emerged is arguably the most off-court upheaval at Kansas since Larry Brown left the program on probation in 1989. The media-friendly Self became an active Naismith Hall of Famer while leading Kansas to 14 Big 12 titles, three Final Fours and the 2008 national championship.
Asked directly Wednesday whether he had ever requested payments from Gassnola for any prospects, players or relatives of athletes, Self responded plainly.
"That's a fair question, and it has been answered."
"I can say, yes."
To be accurate, Self later clarified he actually meant "no," he had not asked for players to be paid. In that dizzying world of a high-profile NCAA investigation, every intimation, every word, counts.
In the small sample size that we have, it's obvious the NCAA is going after coaches related to the FBI investigation. NCAA official Stan Wilcox seemingly wanted that to be known when he told CBS Sports this summer that. , now at Cal State-Northridge.
In that sense, Self may be the next man up.
Self reiterated that he will rely on basketball to push through the hard times. He called it "motivation" … as if another Final Four run will make it all go away. (Interesting because at stake of possibly being vacated is KU's 2018 Final Four appearance.)
"If I had to pass a test when I was in college and there was pressure on [me] to graduate … your focus would be greater at that moment, at least in my world," Self said.
In his world, basketball business will proceed as usual. The preseason No. 3 Jayhawks are favored to win another Big 12 title. Blue blood will flow for sure next month when Kansas opens the season against Duke in the State Farm Champions Classic.
Meanwhile, the NCAA infractions panel won't consider another case from the FBI investigation.
That almost certainly means there will not be sanctions impacting the 2019-20 Kansas season.
There has been no talk of self-imposing penalties such as a postseason ban to proactively get past the ugliness. If anything, there is more likelihood that Kansas mounts some sort of legal battle against the NCAA if the outcome isn't satisfactory.
To be clear, a lawsuit has not been remotely suggested by anyone at Kansas. However, the penalties may have already begun.
KU is in recruiting limbo. While the case drags on, rival programs don't even have to negative recruit on hearsay. Just opening a browser and typing in "Kansas NCAA investigation" should be enough.
"Have we [lost recruits]?" Self said. "Absolutely. We've also lost guys for different reasons in years past. You've just to grind a little bit, work it a little smarter, target a little differently."
KU's recruiting class is currently ranked 42nd nationally (fourth in the Big 12), according to 247Sports. Kansas would jump into the top 10, however, if it lands five-star combo guard Bryce Thompson, according to 247Sports' class calculator.
"I would say it's a thing where we don't know yet," said guard Devon Dotson of waiting out the investigation. "It is kind of questionable."
"Nobody likes to deal with it, but it's also in a strange way motivated me probably in a way I never have been -- to combat this by taking care of our business on the basketball court," Self said. "I do believe there could be a positive that comes out of that."
Sophomore guard Ochai Agbaji agreed. "I can speak for my teammates that it has motivated all of us," he said.
The waiting, then, is always the hardest part in these mega-cases. Near the end of a nearly hour session with media, Self riffed on the current name, image and likeness discussion.
"Talk about high school recruiting, as far as third parties wanting to have influence," Self said.
It was suggested that this could be an ironic twist: some of that third-party influence that has embroiled his program could one day be above board and NCAA legal if such rights are granted.
"That would be an interesting twist," Self admitted. "Maybe within a year or two, who knows?"
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