As Kansas celebrates victory, a years-long NCAA investigation hangs over the school
The Kansas Jayhawks just hoisted the National Championship trophy above their heads, but that excitement could be short-lived as an NCAA investigation into corruption in college basketball may be near its conclusion.
The University of Kansas was included in a list of schools as part of a 2017 FBI case alleging bribes were paid to lure top recruits to elite programs. And payments were made to coaches so they would steer young players toward financial and business advisers, according to then U.S. Attorney Joon Kim of the Southern District of New York.
"Coaches at some of the nation's top programs soliciting and accepting cash bribes; managers and financial advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes; and employees of one of the world's largest sportswear companies secretly funneling cash to the families of high school recruits," Kim said in 2017.
Federal agents initially arrested 10 people, including former NBA star Chuck Person.
The FBI's investigation led the NCAA to allege five Level I violations — which represent a severe breach of conduct — against the Kansas men's basketball program in September 2019, including head coach Bill Self and assistant Kurtis Townsend. The allegations centered around payments made by representatives of Adidas, the school's apparel sponsor, to prospective KU recruits.
The NCAA announced in July 2020 that the case would be processed through the independent accountability resolutions process (IARP). Under that process, an independent resolution panel, consisting of five independent members with legal, higher education and/or sports backgrounds, would hear the case and decide on penalties. The IARP has no appeals process.
The University of Kansas has spent more than $3 million defending itself
Kansas has vigorously defended the program and both of its coaches, spending more than $3 million defending itself against the NCAA violations, KCUR reported.
KU officials claim that Adidas representatives "intentionally concealed impermissible payments from the University and its coaching staff. The University has never denied these impermissible payments were made," the university said in a statement issued in 2020 in response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations.
"The University absolutely would accept responsibility if it believed that violations had occurred, as we have demonstrated with other self-reported infractions," the school said. It said KU and its leaders "stand firmly behind Coach Self, his staff and our men's basketball program, as well as our robust compliance program."
The school further showed its support for its head coach by giving Self a five-year $5.41 million rolling agreement that automatically adds one year at the conclusion of each season, effectively making it a lifetime contract.
"For almost 20 years, Coach Self has embodied the spirit and tradition of the University of Kansas, leading our men's basketball program to a national championship, 15 Big 12 titles and 17 NCAA Tournament appearances. We believe in Coach Self and we believe in the future of our program under his leadership, and we are thrilled that he will continue to be a Jayhawk for the rest of his coaching career," said University of Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod in a statement issued at the time of the contract.
Included in Self's new contract was a clause that states KU "will not terminate Head coach for cause due to any current infractions matter that involves conduct that occurred on or prior to the date of full execution of this Agreement." It also says that if the coach is suspended by the NCAA or Big 12 "as a result of the pending NCAA infractions matter," he would forfeit half of his salary during the time of the suspension.
Kansas faces possible penalties including being barred from next year's NCAA tournament
What punishment the IARP may dole out is anyone's guess. It could be anything from a slap on the wrist to barring the current national champions from competing in next year's NCAA tournament.
What is for certain is that the process has been painfully slow, with NCAA President Mark Emmert telling reporters at a Final Four news conference that it has taken "way too long."
What is at question is if the violations unveiled in the FBI investigation would still be illegal if they had happened in 2022. Last year, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that college athletes could profit off of their name, image and likeness in what are now known as NIL deals.
A Supreme Court ruling opened the door to player endorsement deals
The 2022 March Madness tournament was the first in which these NIL deals allowed athletes to capitalize off of their popularity in deals ranging from local restaurants in their college towns to major national brands like Gatorade and Adidas — the company at the center of the 2017 investigation.
Brands are expected to spend close to $600 million on NIL deals by the first anniversary of the NCAA policy change in July, according to a recent white paper by the site Front Office Sports and Opendorse, a consulting firm that tracks the potential brand value of athletes across the NIL universe.
It's expected for that spending to swell into the billions, ushering in a new era of financial opportunities for the nearly half-million student athletes competing in NCAA sports — the majority of whom are not on athletic scholarships.
In the past, athletes could have lost scholarships or forfeited their college playing careers by profiting off of their name, imagine and likeness. Now they have a new way to help finance their education — athletes such as the ones who received money as alleged under the FBI investigation.
It's still uncertain whether the new landscape will influence the IARP's decision regarding Kansas, but what is for certain is that a new era in college sports has emerged.