A look at what penalties KU could face from impending IARP ruling
photo by: Journal-World
A punishment for the University of Kansas, stemming from the long-running college basketball corruption scandal, seems to be no longer months or years but simply weeks or days away.
It has been nearly six years since the arrests of Adidas personnel and college basketball coaches that kicked off the saga, but Sports Illustrated reported on April 19 that KU had just had a hearing with the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process, and that the entity’s judgments had been produced on four-month timelines after hearings were held. Indeed, SI also reported that LSU had its hearing in February, and its own case wrapped up June 22.
So a KU ruling seems imminent, and if the IARP finds the men’s basketball program guilty on some combination of its five charges — lack of institutional control and head coach responsibility, along with three additional Level I violations, the highest level of severity — the men’s basketball program could potentially be forced to vacate wins from late in its 2017-18 season, when former forward Silvio De Sousa participated. Arizona (50 wins), Memphis (one) and NC State (15) all had to vacate victories in their IARP cases when they fielded ineligible players.
If De Sousa is ruled retroactively ineligible for that stretch, which featured 15 victories, it could potentially nullify KU’s Big 12 Conference tournament championship, Final Four berth and ongoing streak of 33 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, while dropping KU below Kentucky on the list of winningest college basketball programs.
KU’s case essentially centers on whether the school’s apparel company Adidas and its associates served as boosters for the KU program when Adidas personnel made illicit payments to prospective players. In its five previous verdicts, the IARP has levied a variety of punishments — financial sanctions and recruiting and scholarship restrictions, vacated wins, but also individual penalties for coaches.
While most schools with IARP cases have since fired the personnel involved — and granted, the lengthy timelines and sheer intricacies of these cases make them difficult to compare directly — KU gave head coach Bill Self a lifetime contract in April 2021. (Memphis retained its head coach, but that school was ultimately only found to have committed Level II and III violations.) Hoping to hasten the conclusion of the IARP process, the KU athletic department self-imposed in November 2021 four-game suspensions on both Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, as well as sanctions limiting recruiting visits and the deduction of three scholarships over a three-year period.
The IARP has taken self-punishments into account in three of its previous five cases; what remains to be seen is whether it chooses to double down with additional punishments along the same lines.
NCAA documentation shows a clear difference of opinion between KU and the NCAA enforcement staff over the extent to which the university has aggravated or mitigated the severity of its case. (They do agree, favorably for KU, that the school has a history of reporting its low-level violations, and that Self and Townsend have not committed prior violations.)
In the realm of mitigating measures, Arizona, LSU and NC State all applied preemptive punishments of their own. All three imposed some sort of financial penalty as well as recruiting and scholarship restrictions. Arizona went as far as to ban itself from the 2020-21 postseason and LSU admonished, suspended and eventually terminated its men’s basketball head coach, while also banning itself from a bowl game for its football team (which was included in the case). Of the three, only in those two cases did the IARP write that it “acknowledges and appreciates” the schools’ efforts, using similar language and invoking Mitigating Factor 19.9.4-(b): “Prompt acknowledgment of the violation, acceptance of responsibility and imposition of meaningful corrective measures and/or penalties.” The IARP has not administered a postseason ban to any school, but it has certainly given credit to schools for doing so themselves.
However, Louisville also got credit for 19.9.4-(b) without even self-imposing any punishments simply because it acted quickly, cooperated with the NCAA and provided “additional NCAA rules education and oversight” throughout its athletic department.
Much as KU followed up its lifetime contract for Self with a suspension, KU has at times wavered from its stance that Adidas personnel did not serve as boosters. At one point the university even conditionally agreed that they had done so in order for the NCAA to reinstate De Sousa in February 2019, and in October of that same year the school disseminated a flyer to local businesses that listed an apparel company as an example of a booster.
In its response to the NCAA in March 2020, though, KU held firm, accusing the enforcement staff of enacting a “never before alleged theory” that “every corporate sponsor and most, if not all, individuals associated with the sponsor are boosters of every institution with which the sponsor does business.”
The charges against KU (as outlined in the NCAA’s May 2020 reply to the school)
• Allegation No. 1: Adidas executive Jim Gatto and outside consultant T.J. Gassnola provided impermissible payments to eventual KU athlete Billy Preston and his mother Nicole Player (and they did so as KU boosters).
• Allegation No. 2: Self, Townsend and other agents of the school (including Adidas and its representatives) committed recruiting violations in pursuing eventual KU athlete Silvio De Sousa, who then played 20 games as a freshman.
• Allegation No. 3: Adidas representatives made impermissible contacts and in some cases offered impermissible inducements to three prospective student-athletes, and Self and Townsend were aware of some of these.
Note: The NCAA also indicated in its May 2020 reply that a third KU player, Cheick Diallo, may have received a payment from Gassnola years before the Preston and De Sousa situations, according to the Journal-World’s previous reporting.
• Allegation No. 4 (head coach responsibility): Self is presumed responsible for the alleged violations because he did not sufficiently encourage compliance among and monitor his staff.
• Allegation No. 5 (lack of institutional control): The University of Kansas did not exert sufficient oversight over its program in the context of the alleged violations.
Note: KU originally had a minor football violation tied to its case, but former head coach David Beaty was cleared of wrongdoing in October 2021.
Unlike De Sousa in 2017-18, Preston never played a regular-season game for KU. De Sousa played again for KU in the 2019-20 season, but he was ruled eligible ahead of that.
Diallo was also declared eligible for his KU tenure in November 2015 following a protracted saga concerning impermissible benefits totaling $165, but it’s not clear whether that sum is connected to the Gassnola payment suggested by NCAA documentation, or whether the NCAA would retroactively rule again on Diallo’s eligibility as a result of this apparent Gassnola payment, which could expand the scope of KU’s penalties.
Then-NCAA president Mark Emmert said at the 2022 Final Four that the IARP has taken “way too long.” (Since those comments, he has departed the office of NCAA president.) In fact, the IARP has been so slow that it will shut down following its KU ruling.
KU was referred to the IARP in mid-2020, more than nine months after the NCAA initially issued its Notice of Allegations, which was in turn over a year after the school was first implicated in the slowly unfolding scandal.
Now, 16 months since the last action in Kansas’ case (“Parties Submit Correspondence” on March 30, 2022), the IARP is poised to deliver a ruling.