KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal investigation into bribery and fraud in college basketball recruiting, which launched in 2017, finally came to a head Wednesday for the University of Kansas men’s basketball program, head coach Bill Self and one long-time staffer.
And it was largely good news for the Jayhawks.
KU received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in September 2019 based on evidence that several former Adidas representatives “provided impermissible benefits to and had impermissible recruiting contacts” with prospective student-athletes on behalf of the men’s basketball program and Self.
The allegations against Self and the basketball program center around phone calls placed to and money paid to former Jayhawks basketball players, including Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, during the recruiting process.
Kansas men's basketball self-imposed some penalties before the 2022-23 season related to the case, but the case remained before the Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which issued its long-awaited report early Wednesday afternoon.
"The hearing panel was intentional in not prescribing penalties that would have a negative impact on current student-athletes," IARP Chief Panel Member Christina Guerola Sarchio said. "The hearing panel also applied significant weight to Kansas’ self-imposed penalties, especially the men’s basketball recruiting restrictions for the 2022-23 academic year."
Ultimately, the IARP downgraded the severity of the violations, including five Level I violations for the men's basketball team and two for the football program, levied against KU, Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and placed the Jayhawks on three years probation, ending Oct. 10, 2026.
“The hearing panel didn’t find any Level I violations in this case,” Sarchio said.
The panel, whose decision isn’t subject to appeal, also ruled Kansas also must vacate 15 wins from the 2017-18 season in which De Sousa participated. De Sousa is identified in the panel's decision as "men’s basketball student-athlete No. 1."
That includes four wins in the NCAA Tournament, which vacates the Jayhawks’ 2018 Final Four appearance, and three wins in the Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship Tournament, including a championship-game win against West Virginia.
The Jayhawks also must vacate eight regular-season wins — two against Kansas State and wins versus West Virginia, Baylor, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas — and NCAA tourney wins against Pennsylvania, Seton Hall, Clemson and Duke en route to a Final Four loss against Villanova.
The vacated conference tourney wins came against Oklahoma State, K-State and West Virginia.
KU also received a $5,000 fine plus 1% of the average men's basketball budget over the last three seasons.
But Kansas avoided more serious repercussions, which could have included a postseason ban or show-cause penalties against Self and/or Townsend.
Last year's self-imposed sanctions included some recruiting restrictions, the loss of three scholarships over the next three seasons beginning this year, and brief suspensions for Self and Townsend early last season.
Other than the fine and vacated wins, including the Final Four appearance and Big 12 tourney title, the men’s basketball program and its staff won’t face any further punishment.
The case against Kansas was the last infractions case connected to the federal fraud probe and closes a messy six-year saga for the NCAA as well as the Jayhawks and other schools implicated.
KU Chancellor Doug Girod and Athletic Director Travis Goff issued a joint statement on the decision:
Today’s decision by the Independent Resolution Panel confirms what we’ve said since the beginning: the major infractions of which we were accused were unfounded. Most importantly, the Panel decision unequivocally confirms our coaches were not involved in — or had knowledge of — payments to student-athletes.
While doing our due diligence as part of this process, we acknowledged lesser infractions for which we self-imposed penalties last fall. Regarding the additional penalties announced in today’s decision, we accept them and will move forward.
As we’ve said throughout this process, KU has one of the most robust compliance programs in the country — a point that was confirmed by the multiple comprehensive audits we’ve undertaken throughout this process. Looking ahead, we will build upon our strong culture of compliance and continue to be a national leader in this space.
We appreciate the members of the Independent Resolution Panel for their fair review of the facts. We fully support Coach Self and his staff, and we look forward to him finishing his career at KU many years from now. Most importantly, we are pleased that our coaches and student-athletes can now move forward with their Jayhawk careers unfettered by the uncertainty this case has brought.
The case against the Jayhawks also the last case the IARP will handle after its creation in response to the scandal.
The men’s basketball programs at Louisville, Arizona, LSU, Oklahoma State and North Carolina State also were caught up in the fraud investigation.
The NCAA brought the hammer down on Oklahoma State, including a postseason ban, before implementing the IARP process. The new panel didn't use postseason bans among its punishments for any other involved programs.
The Notice of Allegations levied a series of Level I infractions, the most severe, related to Kansas basketball and the alleged conduct of Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, including a finding that Self failed to promote “an atmosphere for compliance” and an accusation KU “failed to exercise institutional control” of its men’s basketball program.
Information about the alleged violations came to light as part of a federal fraud trial during which a former Adidas consultant, T.J. Gassnola, testified that he paid Preston’s mom and De Sousa’s family as part of an effort to steer them to the Jayhawks.
Self said he and his staff had no knowledge of “any illicit payments” to recruits in a statement after receiving the Notice of Allegations.
However, text messages between Gassnola and Self were prominently featured at the fraud trial.
Gassnola pleaded guilty in connection to the pay-for-play scandal and an Adidas employee with connections to KU, former Director of Global Basketball Sports Marketing Jim Gatto, received a nine-month prison sentence.
Kansas announced an extended sponsorship and apparel agreement with Adidas worth $14 million annually, which the university said more than doubled the previous agreement, in April 2019.
But KU disputed that Adidas or its employees were authorized to act as representatives of the school or basketball program’s interests in response to the Notice of Allegations.
The panel agreed, concluding that it found "credible and persuasive information does not show that apparel company, apparel company employee No. 1 or apparel company outside consultant were promoting Kansas’ athletics," according to the IARP decision.
Gatto agreed to pay restitution to KU and North Carolina State after he was convicted at trial.
De Sousa appeared in 18 games in 2019-20 before transferring to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he finished his eligibility in 2021-22.
The Jayhawks implemented recruiting restrictions and suspended Self and Townsend for four games to start last season as part of self-imposed sanctions related to the investigation.
The case against Kansas was referred to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process in July 2020.