LAWRENCE, Kan. — Bill Self said he and his staff have never used improper benefits to sway a recruit’s decision, his first in-depth comments since former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testified in federal court to arranging a pay-for-play scheme, with the financial assistance of former Adidas executive James Gatto, to influence players to pick Kansas and other schools.
“At Kansas, we’ve recruited and signed many players who wore athletic brands other than Adidas on their grassroots basketball teams,” Self said in a statement he read on Wednesday, hours after Gatto, Christian Dawkins, a former runner for agent Andy Miller, and Merl Code, a former Adidas consultant, were all found guilty on felony charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court.
“We’ve also recruited many players whose grassroots teams were sponsored by Adidas who signed with other universities that were aligned with other shoe companies,” Self said. “So while these brand relationships can be a factor for some families during the college decision-making process, it is only one of many factors. When recruiting prospective student-athletes, my staff and I have not and do not offer improper inducements to them or their families to influence their college decision, nor are we aware of any third-party involvement to do so.”
At Big 12 media day on Wednesday afternoon, Self told reporters he could not comment on anything related to the trial due to a “mandate.” On Wednesday night, at a news conference called just hours in advance, he said he is still limited in what he can say, but he made it clear that he will not discuss anything related to the trial during the season. He said Wednesday night’s news conference was “the last time” he’d talk about the FBI investigation during the season.
The conclusion of the first of three trials involving the FBI investigation, Self said, adds some “closure” to the process, and he is confident in “the way we go about our business” at Kansas.
“As the leader of the Kansas men’s basketball program, I take pride in my role to operate with integrity and within the NCAA rules, which is a fundamental responsibility of being the head basketball coach,” Self said. “The legal proceedings in New York have caused undue stress on our university and concern within our loyal fan base. Although my initial reaction is to be transparent and confront these matters head on publicly, I must, under NCAA rules and guidelines, refrain from any further comment until all the inquiries are officially concluded.”
Last season, four Division I assistants and multiple individuals affiliated with Adidas were arrested as part of a bribery investigation that altered the sport.
In federal court last week, Gassnola said he arranged payments to the families of former Kansas player Billy Preston and current player Silvio De Sousa, who is suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of an eligibility review announced by the school on Wednesday. Gassnola claimed that neither Self nor Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend were aware of any pay-for-play arrangements, but an attorney for Gatto, the former Adidas executive implicated in the scheme, said the payment to De Sousa’s family was requested by Self.
Multiple text exchanges between Gassnola, Self and Townsend were presented as evidence by the defense.
Based on what he knows now, Self said he does not expect any coach on his staff to face any reprimands, suspensions or dismissals as a result of the trial or FBI investigation.
“I have total confidence in all members of my staff, including [Townsend], and feel as strongly about that today as I did five, 10, 15 years ago,” Self said.
He added: “We do not operate in that manner.”
The university stressed its support of Self and his staff in a statement on Wednesday but said it will continue to evaluate information discussed and presented in the FBI investigation.
“During the trial, information was presented regarding a former KU student-athlete, a current KU student-athlete, and KU men’s basketball coaches,” athletic director Jeff Long and chancellor Douglas Girod said in a joint statement. “Some of the information we were aware of, and some is new to us. The new information needs to be evaluated and understood. We have already been in contact with the NCAA regarding trial developments and will continue to work with NCAA staff moving forward. Two additional federal trials are set for February and April 2019. Thus, we remain unable to fully comment on the issues before us.
“By limiting our comments, we are able to protect the integrity of the federal matters and the work of the NCAA. While that work continues, we remain fully supportive of our student-athletes, our coaches and our men’s basketball program. Coach Self and Kansas Athletics are committed to maintaining a culture of compliance, and we will continue these efforts. Kansas Athletics has been, and will continue to be, committed to excellence and integrity.”
But the statement also suggested the school’s relationship with Adidas could change.
“Finally, while we have made no decision regarding a long-term contract extension with our apparel partner, Adidas, we continue to evaluate our options,” the joint statement said. “There is no timetable for a decision. A strong apparel partnership is important and beneficial to all our student-athletes and our institution, and we will take great care in making the right decision for KU.”
Self said he wasn’t involved in any conversations about the future of Kansas’ relationship with Adidas, but he said there is a positive component to shoe companies’ involvement in collegiate athletics.
“I can say we all know shoe companies have influence on all levels of basketball,” he said. “They work hard to develop brand loyalty with top high-school prospects, and they have some influence with them, which is totally permissible under NCAA guidelines. Just like a high school coach could. An AAU coach. A trusted adviser and especially a parent.”
Self said anyone who wants to know more than what he revealed in his statement should “read the testimony or the evidence that was presented during the trial.” He admitted he has not done that.
But Self also stated he is motivated to focus on his team, the No. 1 squad in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, this season, and he doesn’t expect the investigation to be a distraction.
“I promise you it will not be an excuse if we do not perform well,” he said. “At all.”
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