College basketball’s FBI trial is now three weeks old, and if we’re being perfectly honest, it’s been a bit of a tamer process than most of us were expecting. Outside of Brian Bowen Sr. admitting that former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson gave him $1,300 for rent, not much earth-shattering has happened. Sure, a bunch of programs have been loosely implicated – Oregon, Creighton, Texas, Oklahoma State – but we still haven’t gotten anything tangible that truly links anybody or anything to obvious NCAA violations or illegal activities. There have been no shocking text messages. No salacious e-mails. No wire-tapped calls indisputably linking a big-name coach or program directly to illegal activity or major violation of NCAA rules.
To be blunt, most of this trial has been a whole lot of sizzle and not all that much steak.
Or at least that was the case until Monday, where umm, some interesting text messages were shared between the Kansas basketball coaching staff (including head coach Bill Self), Adidas exec T.J. Gassanola and the guardian of Silvio de Sousa, a man named Fenny Falmagne. And while nothing directly, unquestionably links Self to payments, there a whole lot of red flags. And it’ll be fascinating to see what the NCAA does in response.
My colleague Jack Pilgrim did a great job of breaking everything down last night, but let’s take a deeper dive here and make sense of it all.
So it all starts back in August 2017, when Kansas was in the middle of a recruiting battle for De Sousa with Maryland. As we’ve learned through the FBI trial so far, a Maryland booster offered $60,000 to De Sousa’s guardian but De Sousa preferred to go to Kansas. The problem was the 60k they’d already accepted. At that point, Adidas agreed to give Falmagne $20,000 to get out from under that original payment from the Maryland booster. To be clear, that’s not up for debate. Gassanola has already admitted that he made the payment to Falmagne.
Now, let’s get into the texts. For brevity sake, here is a quick synopsis via ESPN:
On Aug. 9, 2017, Townsend texted Gassnola and wrote, “Coach Self just talked to Fenny let me know how it goes.”
A few hours later, Gassnola texted Self: “Hall of Fame. When you have 5 minutes and your [sic] alone call me.”
Later that night, after Self hadn’t responded, Gassnola texted him again: “I talked with Fenny.”
“We good,” Self asked via text.
“Always,” Gassnola replied. “That’s [sic] was light work. Ball is in his court now.”
Self and Gassanola talked later that night, but because the call wasn’t wire-tapped no one is totally sure what was said. The text exchange concluded a few weeks later, with this:
On Aug. 26, 2017, Townsend forwarded Gassnola a text message that he said he’d received from Falmagne: “Coach has been on the phone with Angola. We are good to go. We will commit tomorrow.”
Four days later, De Sousa committed to Kansas.
In looking at these text messages it isn’t pretty. Even if you interpret these messages in a “best-case scenario” it leaves Self not looking good.
That best-case scenario is this: Earlier in the trial Gassanola testified that Adidas was working with Falmagne to get Adidas to sponsor the Angolan national team (the country De Sousa is from) with uniforms and apparel. Again, in an absolute, head-in-the-clouds, no-college-coach-has-ever-done-anything-wrong, best-case scenario, Self’s calls were about that sponsorship deal. And considering that the final text before De Sousa committed to Kansas referenced “a call to Angola” that isn’t inconceivable. But even in that best-case scenario, Bill Self is still leveraging his relationship with Adidas to land a recruit. It not be an obvious NCAA violation. But it’s still not good.
That’s because, even in that scenario, it’s clear that Self and Adidas are working together to land kids to Kansas. Remember, Self was on the phone with De Sousa’s guardian early in the day and Gassanola was instructed to follow-up later after Self was done. The “we good” text also seems to make it pretty clear that Self knew De Sousa’s guardian was getting something from Kansas/Adidas in return for his commitment. In a best-case scenario it’s gear for the Angolan national team – which is unlikely since, in a weird twist, the Angolan national team already had a deal with Nike (who knew they were such a hot commodity for the apparel companies?). In a worst-case scenario it’s the $20,000 to get out of the deal with Maryland.
So yeah, not good for Self.
Even worse is what happened a few weeks later, when Adidas and Kansas came to terms on a new, long-term deal between apparel company and school. Gassanola began the exchange by congratulating Self on the new deal. Here is the response from Self and ensuing text exchange:
Self: “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys.”
Gassnola: “In my mind, it’s KU, bill self. Everyone else fall into line. Too [expletive] bad. That’s what’s right for Adidas basketball. And I know I am RIGHT. The more you win, have lottery pics [sic] and you happy. That’s how it should work in my mind.”
Self: “That’s how ur works. At UNC and Duke.” Gassnola replied at Kentucky as well.
Gassanola: “I promise you I got this,” Gassnola wrote. “I have never let you down. Except Dyondre (DeAndre Ayton) lol. We will get it right.”
I mean come on.
Even if we’re to give Self every benefit of the doubt in the earlier text exchange (maybe all the calls were just about uniforms for the Angolan national team!!!) how can anyone miss the obvious hints and references here. Self claims he needs a “couple real guys” – which I can’t lie, seems like a bizarre request for a college head coach to make to a shoe company exec if – as Gassanola claimed – Self had no idea that Adidas was working to secure him players. I mean after all, if you need “a couple real guys” isn’t that something – again, if you’re 100 percent clean – you should express to your assistant coaches? Shouldn’t they be the ones working a little harder to get the best players possible to campus? How can a shoe company exec possibly help you get a “couple real guys” if no rules were broken?!?!?
Then after all that, Gassanola agrees and says that he knows how important lottery picks and good players are to the program. Then he says “I have never let you down” except with DeAndre Ayton. To which I ask: How could any shoe company exec – a guy whose job it is to supposedly sell shoes – let down a college head coach? You know, unless he didn’t land him players?!
(One quick side-note: I’m not going to get into the accusations by Self and Gassanola that UNC, Duke and Kentucky are all paying players through shoe companies. One, if Self didn’t know about any payments to his own players – as he claims – then how can he possibly speculate that other programs are doing it? Two, it’s unfair to just assume that UNC, Duke and Kentucky are involved without any corroborating evidence, in the same way it was unfair earlier in the trial to lump in Oregon, Creighton, Oklahoma State and Texas as well. When I see something definitive that unquestionably confirms that these schools broke NCAA rules, I’ll write about it. Until then, I’m not going to accuse them of anything solely on happenstance)
So now the question becomes: What happens next at Kansas in terms of the NCAA? Unfortunately for those hoping the book gets thrown at Self any time soon, I just don’t see it.
Remember, the NCAA has mostly sat on the sidelines while this entire FBI investigation has taken place. Heck, as far as we know, they haven’t even started an investigation with Louisville – a program which was caught over a year ago arranging for a $100,000 payment to Brian Bowen’s family. So if nothing has happened at Louisville in the last year (other than the school voluntarily removing its coach) than it seems unlikely anything is coming down the pipe for Kansas in the immediate future either. I would be stunned if Self is anywhere other than the sidelines when the season opens up in three weeks.
At the same time, let’s look at this in the bigger picture. The NCAA has spent the last year making a big, public fuss about “cleaning up the sport” and doing stuff to remove shoe company influence from recruiting. So don’t they have to do something here? Again, this isn’t some low-level assistant arranging some behind the scenes scheme (like what has happened at other schools), but a prominent head coach, working hand in hand with a shoe company to make sure his school lands a recruit. If they don’t eventually punish Self in some way, won’t it solidify the belief that the NCAA doesn’t really care about cleaning up the sport – not when it comes to punishing one of their cash cow programs? Also, what would stop every other program from doing the same if they know Self wasn’t ultimately punished?
Point being that while it might not come today and it might not come tomorrow, the NCAA has to do something with Self and Kansas here.
To quote Gassanola: The ball is in their court.
And they better do something.