Fortunately, my specialty on pickup basketball teams is reading the federal indictments. Indeed, I did spend time late Tuesday reading the federal indictment that brings the FBI investigation into college basketball to KU’s doorstep. Here are a few things to watch and wonder about in the coming weeks.
• Are KU coaches and officials in the clear? Certainly, KU has fared better in this indictment than some other schools. Importantly, the indictment does not make any allegations against KU coaches or KU officials. That’s not the case with Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State, which also are listed in the indictment.
But many KU fans and some media outlets may be over generous in claiming the indictment sends a signal that KU is in the clear on this issue. An oft-quoted sentence from the indictment is: "The payments described herein were designed to be concealed, including from the NCAA and officials at the University of Kansas, in order for the scheme to succeed and for the student athletes to receive athletic scholarships from the University of Kansas.”
That sentence is not the federal prosecutors' way of communicating that they have determined no one at KU knew of this scheme. If you don’t believe me, read the portion of the indictments for Louisville, Miami and North Carolina State. The exact same sentence — except with their schools’ names — are used in the indictment. That’s despite the fact that prosecutors are alleging coaches at those schools knew of illegal payments.
I’m not a legal expert, but I believe that sentence is just boilerplate language to say the accused acted with nefarious intent, in a conspiratorial way and certainly wanted to keep the scheme concealed from some officials. That’s quite different from saying they’ve determined no one at KU had knowledge.
Of course, none of this is to say that KU officials did have knowledge, but events in Washington have taught us that federal investigations are an evolving beast.
• Will KU launch its own investigation into recruiting practices at the university? That’s a question I have in to university officials. Some schools have launched an investigation. Notably USC did so earlier this year when media reports surfaced alleging that an agent was paying players at that school. Conceivably an investigation — or review, if that makes you feel better — could have value even if KU coaches and administrators did nothing wrong. It is probably better to know now rather than later whether there are other problems. Some potential topics an investigator could look at: Did other members on the team know or have reason to believe a teammate had been paid?; have any other KU players been associated with the AAU team that allegedly was used to funnel money to one of the players?; and is KU using best practices in vetting the amateur status of its potential recruits?
• Will KU commit to not signing its multimillion dollar contract extension with Adidas until after the federal investigation is complete? I’ve also asked that question of university officials. The deal was announced in September but hasn’t been signed. I suppose you could look at this scandal as not involving Adidas itself but rather a rogue employee who was submitting false invoices to Adidas to pay the families of players. In that scenario, Adidas would be a victim. However, it is interesting to note that Adidas is not listed as a victim in the indictment. Why is that? Could it be that federal investigators haven’t yet determined what other Adidas executives knew about the scheme? I don’t know. But can KU sign its extension with Adidas — valued at $191 million over 14 years — if there is any question about whether Adidas was complicit in this scheme? For what it is worth, it didn’t stop the University of Washington. It announced a 10-year $119 million deal with Adidas yesterday.
• What’s on the tapes? A careful reading of the indictment sends a message that federal officials have recorded phone conversations that involve discussions of a KU player. The indictment includes verbatim quotes from a phone conversation between an Adidas executive and an Adidas consultant talking about needing to make “another $20,000 payment” to the guardian of a player who later enrolled at KU. The indictment doesn’t go into detail about what else was said in that conversation, but you can bet the feds know. How many tapes are there? Are there other references to Kansas? No one knows but the feds. That’s the thing about indictments: They aren’t tell-alls. The feds will tell you what they want you to know, when they want you to know it. Until then, the rest of us are left to watch and wonder.