What to make of the latest ethical mess embroiling the University of Kansas basketball program?
Three men connected to shoemaker Adidas were convicted in a corruption trial in New York this week, accused of paying families to direct their sons to Adidas-affiliated schools. One of which, as it happens, is KU.
The families of former KU player Billy Preston and current player Silvio De Sousa were named during the trial. And while KU coach Bill Self wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, his text messages with Adidas’ T.J. Gassnola were held up to public examination.
So what should happen now?
The simplest — and required — course is a full, thorough and transparent investigation. The school and its community need to know what happened. They need to evaluate their contract with Adidas, and what compromises may been needed to seal it.
Given that the Adidas investigation is ongoing, we don’t know all the details. We shouldn’t rush to judgment. No doubt, that’s the last thing that fans of this storied basketball franchise want.
But KU owes it to the fanbase and its student-athletes past and present to treat this investigation seriously. Too often, colleges are perceived as bending over backward to accommodate their high profile, cash-cow sports programs.
It should be noted that Self vigorously denies any hint of wrongdoing.
“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 decisions, nor are we aware of any third-party involvement to do so,” Self said at a news conference earlier this week, reading from a statement. “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.”
He wouldn’t go into specifics, though, citing the continuing law enforcement efforts. But that lack of transparency, frankly, can raise questions. What, precisely, did Self know about Adidas and its relationship with upcoming KU players? What questions did he ask? What did he know, and what did he not know?
College basketball is a complex, high-stakes world, full of money and rules meant to keep student-athletes from seeing that money. But most of us understand that student athletes and their enablers can find ways to skirt these rules.
The best possible outcome for KU would be an honest self-assessment of its culture, its basketball program, and how shoe company money does — or doesn’t — influence the culture. More than any individual payments, that’s what poses the greatest long-term risks.