Lawyer: KU’s Self weighing legal action vs. NCAA

Jun 18, 2020

  • Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer


    • Senior college football writer
    • Author of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

Bill Self’s attorney sent a notice of claims and request to preserve evidence to the NCAA last week, informing the governing body of college sports that the Kansas coach is considering legal action as a result of its investigation into his program.

In a letter sent to NCAA vice president of legal affairs and general counsel Scott Bearby on June 12, Scott Tompsett, Self’s attorney, wrote that the purpose of the letter was to “formally put the NCAA on notice of Mr. Self’s current and prospective claims against the NCAA relating to the NCAA’s infractions investigation of the KU men’s basketball program and Mr. Self.

“Without limiting Mr. Self’s claims, he is considering bringing legal action against the NCAA and NCAA officers, employees and representatives for negligence, breach of contract, defamation, fraud, tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with prospective contract,” Tompsett wrote.

The letter was obtained by ESPN on Thursday through an open records request. Tompsett had no comment when reached by ESPN.

An NCAA spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to ESPN’s request for comment.

The Jayhawks are charged with five Level I rules violations — the most serious — including lack of institutional control. Self is charged with head-coach responsibility violations. Under NCAA rules, a head coach could be suspended up to an entire season for Level I violations.

Kansas officials, along with Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend, are disputing each of the five Level I violations, as well as each of the nine aggravating factors cited by the NCAA in an amended notice of allegations (ANOA).

The case has been referred for possible adjudication through the NCAA’s independent accountability resolutions process. An independent resolution panel (IRP), consisting of five independent members with legal, higher education and/or sports backgrounds, would hear the case and decide what penalties the Jayhawks would face. The IRP’s decision is final, and there are no appeals.

In the letter to Bearby, Tompsett wrote that allegations directed at Self “are erroneously premised upon an arbitrary, misguided and unprecedented interpretation and application of NCAA booster and recruiting legislation.”

The NCAA enforcement staff alleges that Self and Townsend “embraced, welcomed and encouraged” Adidas employees and consultants to influence high-profile basketball recruits to sign with Kansas by funneling money from the apparel company to the players’ families and handlers.

During a federal trial in October 2018, Adidas executive James Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins were found guilty on felony charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They are appealing their convictions.

In September 2019, former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola was sentenced to probation and fined for his role in pay-for-play schemes to steer recruits to Kansas and other Adidas-sponsored programs.

“The record is clear and undisputed — payments allegedly made to the families/guardians of the three student-athletes cited in the ANOA were intentionally concealed from KU, Mr. Self and his coaching staff,” Tompsett wrote. “Indeed, the ANOA does not allege that Mr. Self is culpable in any way, shape or form for the alleged payments. The enforcement staff’s allegations against Mr. Self hinge, therefore, on a novel theory that adidas is a ‘booster’ of KU simply by being one of its corporate sponsors, and because adidas employees and representatives communicated and shared information about prospective student-athletes (PSAs) with KU’s coaches, and also communicated and shared information with PSAs.

“Using the erroneous premise that adidas and its employees and representatives are KU boosters, the enforcement staff has alleged that any communications involving adidas employees and representatives about PSAs are impermissible recruiting communications because NCAA legislation prohibits boosters from being involved in the recruitment of PSAs.”

Tompsett’s letter includes a quote from Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a recent president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, who told The Athletic in part in May, “Every one of us works the shoe company angle to help get us players. I speak to those guys as much as I would speak to parents.”

“The enforcement staff’s allegations are contrary to longstanding NCAA precedent and the common practice that individuals who work in grassroots basketball openly share information with both college coaches and PSAs,” Tompsett wrote. “It is widely known and accepted that individuals in grassroots basketball including high school coaches, AAU coaches, shoe company representatives who operate grassroots events (including events which are sanctioned by the NCAA) and others openly share information about PSAs with college coaches, and they also openly share information about college programs and coaches with PSAs. This information sharing has been going on for decades with the NCAA’s full knowledge and acceptance.”

In the letter, Tompsett demanded that the NCAA take appropriate action to preserve all evidence related to the NCAA’s investigation of Kansas and Self, as well as other material.

“To put it bluntly, the NCAA enforcement staff is attempting to end Mr. Self’s long and very successful coaching career for conduct which all coaches engage in and which the NCAA has known for many years is commonplace and permissible,” Tompsett wrote.

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