Chancellor mum on whether independent review of KU Athletics is needed; KU saying little about partnership with Adidas

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod and a KU-branded adidas basketball are pictured in Journal-World file photos.

A spokesman for Kansas Athletics Inc. stopped short Thursday of saying the department would support a third-party, public review of its recruiting practices and policies.

University of Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod has yet to answer a question about whether he thinks an independent review would be appropriate in the wake of a federal indictment that alleges a family member and a guardian of two KU basketball players are involved in a pay-to-play scheme orchestrated by an executive with Adidas, which is a partner of the KU Athletic department.

When asked whether the athletic department would object to an independent review of its operations that would be made available to the public, KU Athletics spokesman Jim Marchiony said department leaders are confident in its current processes, which do include the use of outside reviews. However, when asked whether those outside reviews could be made public, Marchiony said he was uncertain.

“I think we have confidence in our process and in the involvement of an independent entity along with our compliance staff to ensure we are following NCAA rules,” Marchiony said as part of an impromptu interview at his athletic department offices.

Since 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Journal-World has been seeking comment from Girod on whether he believes an independent review of athletic department practices is warranted following Tuesday’s indictment, which was the first to link KU to the widening college basketball scandal. As of 12:50 p.m on Thursday, the Journal-World had not received an answer from the chancellor’s office.

Tuesday’s indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office from the Southern District of New York does not implicate any KU official or coach. However, prosecutors have cautioned that their investigation continues and that additional charges are possible.

The latest indictment does provide more detail about the alleged pay-for-play scheme and provides additional information about the consultants that Adidas has employed to work on its behalf.

The indictment alleges that James Gatto, an Adidas executive, had a phone conversation with an Adidas consultant who is active in the world of AAU basketball. The Adidas consultant — who is not named in the indictment — told Gatto in a phone conversation that “another $20,000” payment would be needed to convince a particular basketball recruit to attend KU rather than an another school that is sponsored by a rival athletic apparel company.

The New York Times has reported that two sources close to the investigation have confirmed the unnamed Adidas consultant is T.J. Gassnola. Gassnola had run an Adidas-sponsored youth basketball program in Massachusetts. Gassnola also has a significant criminal history and has been publicly tied to having connections to an NBA agent.

He began showing up as a red-flag character in the world of amateur basketball as early as 2006. An article by The Boston Globe in 2006 reported that Gassnola had a lengthy criminal history. The newspaper reports Gassnola had been convicted three times of larceny or receiving stolen property and had been ordered by judges in at least 11 civil cases to pay more than $45,000 in back debt.

The article describes Gassnola as “a pariah among many youth coaches for his history of breaking laws, rules and promises.” The article even states that one witness in a case involving Gassnola told police that Gassnola claimed to be a member of an organized crime family in Massachusetts. Gassnola denied that claim to the newspaper, but did acknowledge that he previously was involved in bookmaking.

More recently, in 2012, multiple media organizations reported that the NCAA temporarily banned Gassnola’s AAU team — the New England Playaz — from participating in NCAA-sanctioned events. The reason for the ban was Gassnola’s alleged association with NBA agent Andy Miller.

Despite Gassnola’s past, the indictment says that Gassnola — who was identified only as CC-3 — continued to serve as a “consultant” for Adidas in its high school and college basketball programs.

KU officials must decide whether they want to remain affiliated with Adidas. The school and the company announced in September a $191 million, 14-year extension for Adidas to serve as the shoe and athletic apparel provider for KU Athletics. However, that deal has not been signed.

In October, Marchiony told the Journal-World that KU was still completing its due diligence on the deal, but that work “has nothing to do” with the case against Gatto and other Adidas associates.

On Thursday, Marchiony said KU continued to “monitor the situation” and offered no guidance on when or whether the deal would be signed.

“We have been discussing since last year an extension with Adidas,” Marchiony said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and make the best decision for the university and our students.”

When asked whether KU Athletics was prepared to sign the agreement, Marchiony referred back to his original statement.

When asked whether KU Athletics was disappointed that Adidas has employed someone with Gassnola’s background and NCAA compliance problems to interact with the families of potential KU recruits, Marchiony said that because the matter is part of an active investigation it would be inappropriate to comment.

He also gave that same response to a question related to whether there is any disappointment that KU’s relationship with Adidas has played a role in the program being included in a federal indictment, which conceivably could result in NCAA penalties against the basketball program.

On the matter of whether the athletic department could benefit from a public, third-party review, Marchiony was asked several questions about whether KU was confident it was following best practices in vetting the amateur status of potential recruits and their families. Marchiony indicated that an independent, public review was not needed on that matter.

“We constantly review our practices and regularly use a third party to ensure we are following the spirit and the letter of NCAA rules,” Marchiony said.

Marchiony also was asked about whether those vetting practices had failed in the case of Billy Preston and his vehicle. Preston ultimately left KU before participating in an official game because of questions related to the finances of a vehicle he was driving. However, based on previous statements, it appears KU did not become aware of any potential financial problems with the car until it was involved in an accident. Reportedly, KU has a system in place where student-athletes are required to register their vehicles with the athletic department. It is unclear, however, whether that registration system is designed to spot any potential financial problems related to vehicles. When asked whether the system had worked properly in the case of Preston’s car, Marchiony declined to provide details.

“We’ve said all we are going to say about the Billy Preston issue,” Marchiony said.