Kansas basketball gave up on its “Victim Jayhawks” routine Wednesday when it announced a slew of self-imposed sanctions designed to appease the NCAA before the governing body hands down its own expected punishment for years of rule violations.
Perhaps the NCAA now goes lightly.
Both head coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend have been suspended for four games. Neither was allowed to recruit off campus for four months last summer, either. Additionally, KU can offer three fewer scholarships, bring in four fewer recruits for visits and there are six-week bans on contacting any recruits or having them on campus in any way and things like that.
No program wants to have its hands tied by sanctions in recruiting, but winning the 2022 national championship makes most of this moot anyway. Nothing attracts recruits like winning. The Jayhawks have the 12th-ranked recruiting class in the country committed for 2023 and it likely will only improve.
The NCAA can, and likely will, come in with even harsher sanctions. If so, KU will survive it. By next year, all will be forgotten.
Wednesday was more about dropping the program’s long-held charade that Self and Co. were just some honest hayseeds who had no idea that the most powerful people at Adidas Basketball were doing everything they could — including direct payments — to help Kansas land talented recruits through the years.
And yes, the concept of amateurism, and the rules that support it, may be ridiculous, unfair and in need of becoming extinct. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, nor that KU and Self didn’t make tens of millions off them. It’s their rules, after all.
The truth in this case has been painfully obvious since two federal trials were held that featured wiretaps, intercepted text messages and even a nearly two-day stint on the witness stand by T.J. Gassnola, a self-described “Adidas bagman” and personal friend of Self.
“Just got to get a couple of real guys,” Self once texted Gassnola.
“In my mind, it’s KU, Bill Self,” Gassnola texted back, intimating how Kansas deserved the best players before other Adidas schools such as Louisville or North Carolina State. “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 [sic] works at UNC and Duke,” Self texted, mentioning a couple of Nike-sponsored schools.
Self was correct about that. This is how the system worked and still works. Major shoe and apparel companies sign nine-figure endorsement deals with college teams and then spend additional money stocking the rosters with top talent to ensure a return on their investment.
Everybody knew it. Almost everybody did it.
After all, Gassnola once promised to do everything he could to get Zion Williamson to Lawrence. He wound up at Duke. Gassnola once sent $15,000 to a supposed handler of Deandre Ayton. He wound up at Arizona.
It’s just business.
The issue came when federal prosecutors decided to charge 10 men — mostly mid-level shoe company execs and some fall guy assistant coaches — with fraud. The case theory required the laughable concept that the schools were victimized by people they were begging to help them get players — “just got to get a couple of real guys” — when they in fact helped them get players.
It was tortured logic, a circle of absurdity. It allowed Kansas, however, to claim they were these poor naive souls who got cheated by big, bad Adidas … only to then sign another contract with Adidas anyway, of course.
It was just a way to fire up the fans and buy time for Self to win so many games no one would care. It was a good idea and it worked. Self hoisted a trophy last April even as two of his chief Adidas confidantes — Jim Gatto and Merl Code — sat in federal prison for, in part, helping him. (Both have since been released).
There is no way anyone inside the Kansas athletic department actually believed any of what it claimed was true — at least not unless Kansas employs the most gullible people in college athletics. KU was never the victim. KU was never innocent. Bill Self was never unaware.
There was no honest way to look at the facts and understand the business and argue such a thing.
They just did it to feed red meat to their supporters. Playing the martyr and bashing the NCAA is always a winning strategy.
“The narrative is based on innuendo, half-truths, mis-impressions and mischaracterizations,” Self once said about the NCAA charges.
Yeah, well, about that. Now they are basically pleading guilty and punishing themselves. All that stuff they used to say? Forget it.
The Victim Jayhawks are dead. The real ones are the national champions, though. Not a bad trade.