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NEW ORLEANS – Among the rash of college basketball programs placed under a federal dragnet in the fall of 2017 for wholesale recruiting corruption involving the Adidas shoe company, Kansas was among the most elite.
The FBI case went to trial and ended in 2019 with a whimper compared to the explosion with which it began. But the aftermath of the NCAA investigation into Kansas continues to this day. That has not stopped the Jayhawks by a long shot.
Wonder if Jim Gatto, the former head of global basketball marketing for Adidas, and his fellow Adidas employee Merl Code, who were each tied to Kansas in the FBI and subsequent NCAA investigations, got to watch the championship game from federal prison?
They are serving sentences at minimum security facilities in Oregon and California, respectively, for funneling money to former Kansas players recruited by Self and to their families so they would play for the Jayhawks. Surely, those two have television privileges.
Originally, on September 27, 2017, the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York implicated basketball programs at Arizona, Auburn, Louisville, Miami, Oklahoma State, South Carolina and USC. In April, prosecutors from the Southern District named Kansas, North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami. Later, LSU and several others were implicated.
Auburn reached the 2019 Final Four. Last December, the NCAA’s post-FBI investigation placed Auburn’s program on four years probation for unethical conduct involving former assistant coach Chuck Person. It also suspended head coach Bruce Pearl for two games early this past season for failing to monitor Person and foster overall NCAA compliance. Person was arrested by FBI agents in September of 2017 as part of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball, and he was soon fired by Auburn.
Arizona received the dreaded Notice of Allegations from the NCAA in October of 2020 that included five Level I – the most serious – violations along the damning “lack of institutional control” tag. Coach Sean Miller was fired following the 2020-21 season.
LSU received its NOA last month with seven Level I violations with the “lack of institutional control” and promptly fired coach Will Wade. Sanctions on Arizona and LSU are expected within a year or so.
Kansas received its Notice of Allegations on Sept. 23, 2019, for five Level I violations described as “egregious” and “severe,” including the damning “lack of institutional control,” but it still awaits its sanctions.
Some texts by Self to Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola, who avoided prison by ratting on Gattor and Code, were discovered in the investigations. They are not nearly as damning as Wade’s “strong-ass offer” comment on federal wiretap in the summer of 2017 about LSU recruit Javonte Smart, who played at LSU from 2019-21.
Self texted, “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple of real guys.” Self will surely not be exiled from college coaching as Wade will be, but his All-American image will likely be further soiled when the sanctions are handed down.
But he did not seem concerned on Monday night as he wrapped up his third season since the Notice of Allegations with the largest comeback victory in the history of the national championship game.
“I thought this would be good,” he said after his second national championship with Kansas and first since 2008. “And this is a heck of a lot better than I thought it would be.”
Kansas was 16 down 38-22 in the first half. Loyola of Chicago was 15 down in the 1963 title before beating Cincinnati.
“To win when your team had to fight and come back the way they did and show that much grit makes this one off the charts,” Self said.
To recruit and win a championship while being interviewed and probed by the NCAA in this day and age of illegal and suddenly legal NIL pay-for-play is also impressive. Perhaps the United States Basketball Writers’ Association should come up with a new award.
How about “Under Investigation, National Coach of the Year”? You have to be present at the last game to win, though. So Wade would not have been eligible in 2019 or ’21.
Coaches under investigation or about to be sanctioned are so common in college basketball now that no one bothered to ask Self about his rare air Monday night as he held a trophy at the interview podium that perhaps should have included a detachable asterisk.
No Kansas players on the championship team are involved in the investigations, but Self surely has been and will be in the aftermath. He was asked about the investigation on Friday before he opened the Final Four the next day against Villanova.
“Well, I can’t comment on anything that’s ongoing with the case about anything,” he said as if he hit a save string. “But I do hope the end is soon. I believe we’re getting closer. And I know that no one probably from any party has wanted this to go as long as it has. But I do believe that the end is soon.”
At least, Self has cooperated with the NCAA and with his school. Wade did not do that initially, and as recently as last November, he was still misleading investigators and using delay tactics. Self at least has been more professional.
Self was also asked on Sunday about the difficulty of recruiting for the last four years after first being linked to the federal probe and whether he thought he could return to the top amid the lingering investigations.
“No, you know, it’s common knowledge,” he said as if it’s just not a big deal. “We’ve been dealing with some stuff off the court for a while.”
And it just doesn’t seem to matter.
Kansas didn’t even need its recruiting classes of 2021 or 2020 to win a national title this season. The nucleus of its team that got it here and won the game Monday was signed in 2018 – forward David McCormack (15 points, 10 rebounds, last two buckets vs. North Carolina) and guard Ochai Agbaji (12 points, Final Four MVP) – and 2019 – Christian Braun (12 points, 12 rebounds), Jalen Wilson (15 points) and DaJuan Harris (defensive ace in second half). And it got transfer Remy Martin (14 points) less than a year ago.
“Bring on the sanctions, for crying out loud,” Kansas has been saying for years now.
They will likely be less difficult to deal with than the largest deficit in a national championship game in nearly six decades.