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Kansas escapes postseason ban, major penalties as panel downgrades basketball violations

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas men’s basketball program was put on probation and ordered to take down its 2018 Final Four banner but escaped a postseason ban Wednesday, when an independent panel created by the NCAA to handle complex cases downgraded five Level I violations lodged against the Jayhawks.

The violations stem from a 2017 federal investigation into college basketball corruption, and hinged on whether representatives of the apparel company Adidas were considered boosters when two of them arranged payments to prospective recruits.

Kansas officials never disputed that payments were made, only that they had any knowledge of them, and they appealed the violations through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process. Their hearing took place in April and the ruling was announced less than a month before the start of the season, in which the powerhouse Jayhawks will be a national championship contender.

“Today’s decision by the Independent Resolution Panel confirms what we’ve said since the beginning: the major infractions of which we were accused were unfounded,” Kansas Chancellor Douglas Girod and athletic director Travis Goff said in a statement. “Most importantly, the panel decision unequivocally confirms our coaches were not involved in — or had knowledge of — payments to student-athletes.”

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In a campus news conference with Goff on Wednesday, coach Bill Self said he was eager to move forward “without this cloud hovering above our program.”

“I’m very happy that It’s over,” Self said. “I’m certainly happy with the end result, and at the same time, don’t feel like a celebration mode because this is exactly what we thought the end result would be years ago. And it’s taken such a long period of time to get here. But I am pleased with the findings because the findings are accurate.”

The panel concluded the apparel company’s consultant “was a representative of Kansas’ athletics interests” beginning in August 2017, resulting in multiple Level II and Level III violations. But it found “no credible and persuasive information” to suggest that Kansas officials failed to cooperate, lacked institutional control or failed to monitor the basketball program.

Among the penalties, the 2018 Final Four banner was ordered to be removed from Allen Fieldhouse, and any wins involving forward Silvio De Sousa — identified as “student-athlete No. 1” and central to the case — would be stripped from all records. The school also was given a variety of recruiting restrictions, adding to penalties that were self-imposed last year.

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The panel made a point to avoid giving Kansas a postseason ban, though. The Jayhawks, led by Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson and with several key players returning, are expected to be ranked No. 1 when the preseason AP poll is released next week.

“We have the penalties we’ve imposed, but we don’t want that to be a reflection on current student-athletes, or impose any limitations on current student-athletes,” Christina Guerola Sarchio, the chief member for the Independent Resolution Panel hearing the case, said on a Zoom meeting to discuss the case.

Kansas won the 2022 national title while going through the IARP process. That championship is not affected.

The case against Kansas, which included minor infractions involving its football program, was the final one pending for the soon-to-be disbanded IARP after it sanctioned former LSU and current McNeese State men’s basketball coach Will Wade in June.

Kansas officials suspended Self and top assistant Kurtis Townsend for the first four games of last season, along with imposing several recruiting restrictions, potentially mitigating any penalties that IARP would hand down.

Goff said the school reviewed NCAA guidelines before determining the self-imposed penalties that ended up “probably on the heavier end of things” in terms of severity.

“I don’t think it implies a measure of guilt at all,” Self said. “What I think it implies is we were doing everything possible to move forward and put this behind us. And at the same time, doing what was in the best interest of our present student-athletes and future student-athletes to make sure they were not impacted in any negative way whatsoever.”

Along with barring the two coaches from off-campus recruiting last summer, the school self-reduced the number of official visits that it would allow during the 2023-24 academic year, reduced the total number of scholarships by three over a three-year span and reduced the number of recruiting days during the current year by 13 days.

“The NCAA membership has acknowledged the significance of these self-imposed penalties,” Sarchio said.

The case against Kansas stemmed from an FBI investigation that ensnared several schools, including Auburn, Arizona, LSU, Louisville and North Carolina State, and led to convictions of shoe company executives, a middleman and several assistant coaches.

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Kansas initially was charged by the NCAA with five Level I violations, which are considered the most severe, including a charge of lack of institutional control and an allegation that Self had failed to keep the program in compliance.

Auburn received four years of probation through a traditional NCAA infractions process for a similar case, but Kansas joined others in appealing through the IARP, which was among the proposals made by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2018 to reform the sport. The panel was designed to work outside the purview of the NCAA and handle complex cases.

The IARP has been slow, though, and former NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged last year that the process was taking “way too long.” That is part of the reason the panel will be eliminated now that the Kansas case has been completed as the NCAA attempts to modernize its infractions process.

In the meantime, many alleged infractions from the 2017 investigation would no longer be against the rules. Name, image and likeness guidelines allow NCAA athletes in all sports to earn money from endorsements and other off-the-field business arrangements.

“That has been something we have been very conscientious about, in terms of the allegations of this case spanning an incredibly long time, and the resolution to get to where we are today took a number of months and years,” Sarchio said. “This case was not dormant. There was activity going on. It took this long to render a decision because it was an incredibly thorough record.”

The panel also has been criticized for inconsistent penalties. Arizona, LSU, Louisville and North Carolina State were given minor penalties and no postseason ban, while Oklahoma State was barred from postseason play for relatively minor violations.

Sarchio said all of those cases were considered in rendering judgment in the Kansas case.

“What we looked at was the conduct, the fact that there were no Level I findings — there were some Level II and Level III — and compared to what the self-imposed penalties were,” she said. “That led us to reach the conclusion that we disclosed today.”

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball