I understand if you haven’t heard much about it the last few weeks as you had to have been paying reasonably close attention to have even heard anything at all. Even though major sports outlets & sites have talked about it, it really hasn’t been picked up by the national media. In a way that’s good, so we can stay under the radar. Let the NFL, Trump’s tweets, and breathless coverage about the billions available in the lottery dominate the headlines – we’re perfectly fine avoiding the spotlight as best we can for the moment.
I’m talking, of course, about how KU is a favorite to win the 2018-2019 title. What did you think I was talking about?
(Sigh... Yes, we’ll get to that shortly…)
With the 2018-2019 college basketball season kicking off on November 6, most of the major media involved in such things have submitted their predictions and the Jayhawks are considered one of the more likely teams to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
In addition to the Street & Smith’s, Lindy’s, and Athlon Sports magazines listed above, KU is considered the #1 preseason team with other outlets including ESPN, NBC Sports, analytics guru Ken Pomeroy, and the Associated Press. Agreeing that KU is #2 includes Blue Ribbon (also shown above), CBS Sports, and Sporting News. Thinking that KU is #3 (or worse) is…nobody reputable. In short, KU’s talent and depth are prompting many experts to heap expectations and praise on this year’s team.
Now, as for what is currently being said about the coaching staff and the off-the-court issues, let’s just say it’s a bit more distracting…
If you’re a KU fan, the Adidas college basketball bribery trial (aka “U.S. vs. Gatto”) has been at the very least an unbearable slow-drip of embarrassment and at the most a panic-attack kick-starter concerning the fate of the program. The taps, texts and testimony have been not only disappointing, but damning. However, like I hinted at the outset of this post, one of the few good things about this trial so far is that the Sports World At-Large and General Public are relatively unaware of it. Again – so far…
Now let me pause here to say that I’m not naive. Money and promises have been exchanged in the shadows between players and agents, between coaches and parents, between shoe companies and schools, between school boosters and school administration – everyone – for some time now. Hell, even the often & overly-sanctimonious NCAA is a stakeholder in all of this given their lucrative television contract and how it contributed nearly 80% of their revenue last year. The influence of money in college sports stems from the early days of organized athletics in 1905, to the height of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty, to recent times’ “open secret” of shoe companies’ involvement in recruiting. I don’t believe that it’s everyone, all the time, for obscene amounts of money or extravagant promises in every situation, but it happens. That doesn’t mean it’s right, but let’s just say that I was about as shocked by the FBI’s allegations as Captain Renault in Casablanca:
Well, about as shocked as Renault until Head Coach Bill Self and Assistant Kurtis Townsend were brought up by the defense as willing and knowing participants that is, and that KU was hardly the victim that the government portrayed at the trial’s outset. That’s when I became actually shocked, disappointed, and very, very worried…
It will be interesting to watch how the NCAA responds to this and the subsequent trials. The FBI has asked the NCAA to wait on investigating (or at least, interviewing) people from the legion of schools that have been brought up during the trial and/or associated with any of the allegations, but given the scale & scope of the charges I think it is highly unlikely that the NCAA ignores any chicanery and sweeps all this under the rug like they did with Duke and Corey Maggette.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) is is Big 12 media day in Kansas City, and you can be sure that every representative of Kansas basketball in attendance will be asked about the trial and the related allegations. This is not only disappointing given that Self and Townsend are involved to begin with, but also in light of how much this team can potentially achieve – from the individual accolades predicted for Lawson, Grimes and Azubuike; to a possible 15th straight conference title, to the aforementioned National Championship. 2018-2019 should be an exciting year, fueled by the promise of potential not seen by a KU team in a while. Instead, the FBI’s investigation and government’s trials will linger like a stale fart during a long flight – every article, every telecast, every mention of what KU could accomplish will also come with a qualifier of allegations of impropriety.
So, what should KU do? How should Kansas and the coaches respond to try and counter (as best as possible, anyway) the taint and stink of cheating? What can KU do to try to ensure that any banners won this season will remain hanging in Allen Fieldhouse?
You’re in luck. Here is a list of the Top 10 things Kansas can do/say/pursue to help make sure this year’s team and its accomplishments are never stricken from the record books by the NCAA (under the assumption that nothing more is revealed):
- Bench Silvio De Sousa. Look, I understand that doing this might jeopardize last year’s Big 12 and Final Four banners, that it could be looked upon as an admission of guilt by some, and that it might unfairly punish De Sousa, but this seems like a no-brainer to me. I would withhold him from playing in any games while saying something along the lines of, “We thought De Sousa was eligible last year, and although we still think he is eligible, what we heard during trial leads us to believe that we need to thoroughly investigate the situation.” My thinking is that it is better to put last year’s accomplishments “at risk” accompanying a spirit of openness and cooperation as opposed to both last year’s and this year’s accomplishments, which – if Kansas is found guilty of improprieties – would be looked at as attempting a cover-up.
- Strongly denounce cheating, whether it be by direct/known or indirect/unknown means. This seems fairly straightforward, too. No one from KU – Self, Townsend, or anyone from the administration – has stepped forward to say much of anything about the trial other than the neutral & nebulous, “We’ll comment at the appropriate time.” No way around it, this just looks…bad. At least come up with something carefully worded that is a head nod to knowing the rules for the NCAA’s benefit and announce that we’ll conduct an internal investigation. On that note, KU should also make sure to point out how we held out Billy Preston following his car accident so we could look into his finances. Surely someone who was guilty and knowingly paid money to Preston wouldn’t have done this, would they?
- Admit that there are specific moments of the recruitment process that look bad out the context of the full process. This is a tricky one: If Self and the coaching staff are – in fact – guilty of what the trial hints at, the next step might need to be admitting all that happened in the last year (and last year alone). If Self and the coaching staff are innocent or “only” guilty of willful ignorance for plausible deniability’s sake, I think it makes sense for Self to talk about how oftentimes the recruiting process can be an ongoing negotiation – people might ask for things, things that may be inappropriate or illegal, and instead of shooting them down outright coaches engage in a dance to gradually convince them to accept what’s within the rules. In other words, “I know a player asked for money, and I play along at first to stay involved in his recruitment until I convince him that coming to Kansas ‘legally’ is the best thing for him. This looks bad, but what can I say – recruiting is a world of bullshit.”
- Fire Townsend. If the above was a tricky one, this is the tough one since Townsend has been with Self for a long time. If we’re looking at the ongoing viability & success of the program however, a proverbial pound of flesh will need to be extracted. Sure, #2s taking the fall for a coach may be a cliche at this point, but firing someone valuable to the program helps to show that we’re serious.
- State we’re reevaluating Adidas relationship and contract. Obviously this is more far-reaching at KU than just with the men’s basketball team, but at least from a PR perspective it would be helpful. Publicly it would be positive if we can enter some sort of additional, oversight language, or get more help from Adidas to help prevent corruption from happening in the future; privately it would be beneficial if we can get more money from Adidas, or some sort of risk/insurance coverage in case something like this happens again.
- Offer to head a “blue ribbon” committee of other, top colleges/conferences on how to best move the sport forward. This is the kind of thing the NCAA loves to do. Kansas can chair a select group of influential colleges and their representatives to agree on how to best navigate things like apparel company contracts and recruiting in a much more complicated environment. This isn’t to replace any of the NCAA’s rules – more to complement them.
- Invite the NCAA to be involved in every step of the way, whether it be an internal investigation, reviewing the oversight provisions of our Adidas contract, participating in any committees, or anything else.
- Conduct a mini-PR blitz and get Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Brandon Rush, or anyone else that is willing to comment how cheating is not “the Jayhawk way” and that they never saw or participated in anything remotely resembling what was discussed during the trial in New York. If all that is true, of course. (Please note that Josh Jackson is not listed as a possible character witness…)
- Gather up whatever info we have about other schools and be prepared to exploit the “everyone does it” text. In particular, given how Duke and Coach K seem to have achieved divine status at the NCAA, in the spirit of openness we should be ready to discuss whatever we know about Zion Williamson’s recruitment as well as ask the NCAA clarifying questions about what constitutes an appropriate level of a shoe company’s involvement via the context of Marvin Bagley’s Nike relationship. This isn’t to snitch, of course – it’s just to be transparent and have a better understanding…
- Lawyer up.
It would be great if the first seven items above could be discussed/proposed tomorrow (okay, “great” regarding Townsend’s employment might not be the right word…unless, of course, he gets hired by Adidas…) during the Big 12 media day in order to try and address questions head-on and maximize any positive, PR impact, but instead I fully expect an onslaught of “No comment” and “It’s not appropriate for us to comment at this time” to come from Self and any other members of the KU administration that might be attendance.
Hopefully some of these tactics are deployed soon however, as I believe that the longer KU stays silent, the guiltier we come across, the guiltier we might actually be, and the more likely it is that any accomplishments earned by this year’s team will ultimately become subject to the NCAA’s whims.