Bill Self rips 'mean-spirited' NCAA after Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa suspended through 2019-20 season

Kansas’ Silvio De Sousa celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating Duke in a 2018 regional final game. (AP)
Kansas’ Silvio De Sousa celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating Duke in a 2018 regional final game. (AP)

The NCAA ruled on Friday to suspend Kansas basketball forward Silvio De Sousa for the remainder of this season and the entirety of the 2019-2020 season.

De Sousa, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who was expected to be a vital part of the Jayhawks’ bid to return to the Final Four this season, enrolled at Kansas for the spring semester last season and showed promise. He averaged four points and 3.7 rebounds, and would have been a critical player on this team because of the hand injury that will force center Udoka Azubuike to miss the rest of the season.

The NCAA’s decision does not come as a surprise, as multiple allegations about De Sousa’s guardian arose during the federal basketball trial. It will, however, loom large as Kansas (16-5, 5-3) attempts to win the Big 12 title in basketball for the 15th consecutive season.

Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said the school was “shocked and incensed” by the decision and will appeal immediately. Long said De Sousa had no knowledge of any violation, nor did he benefit from it.

Kansas coach Bill Self was even angrier.

“In my 30-plus years of coaching college basketball, I have never witnessed such a mean-spirited and vindictive punishment against a young man who did nothing wrong,” Self said in a statement. “To take away his opportunity to play college basketball is shameful and a failure of the NCAA. Silvio is a tremendous young man who absolutely deserves to be on the court with his teammates in a Jayhawk uniform. This process took way too long to address these issues. We will support Silvio as he considers his options.”

The NCAA said its decision was based on De Sousa’s guardian receiving a payment and agreeing to an additional payment in order to secure De Sousa’s commitment to Kansas.

While Kansas officials thought the suspension was unjust, the NCAA said it softened De Sousa’s punishment from a possible permanent ban based on the circumstances.

“According to the guidelines adopted by the NCAA Division I membership, when a prospective student-athlete allows a third party to involve himself in the recruitment process, the prospective student-athlete is then responsible for the actions of that person, regardless of whether the prospective student-athlete had knowledge or if benefits were received,” the NCAA said in its announcement.

It’s been a week filled with important and controversial NCAA decisions. The big question looming over the collegiate landscape in the wake of them is a simple one: Do these rulings constitute a new trend in the association’s application of its bylaws?

On Monday, the same Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee that suspended De Sousa benched Miami’s Dewan Hernandez for the rest of this season and 40 percent of next, which led to Hernandez declaring he would end his college career and enter the NBA draft. Hernandez, who already had sat out the Hurricanes’ first 19 games of this season, agreed to receive monthly payments from aspiring agent Christian Dawkins – a key figure in the federal investigation of college basketball – and accepted other benefits from the individual.

Then on Thursday, the NCAA Committee on Infractions dropped a multisport hammer on Missouri, applying postseason bans to the football, baseball and softball teams for having a tutor do classwork for athletes in those three sports. That ruling was met with shock throughout college sports, up to and including Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey – a former chair of the COI. “We are seeking to understand the committee’s decision related to the severity of the penalties applied to Missouri,” Sankey said in a statement, “particularly in light of the university’s exemplary cooperation in the case.”

The decisions, taken as a whole, could be construed as a concerted movement toward tougher penalties by the NCAA. That certainly seemed to be the direction the association wanted to head since the federal corruption investigation broke in September 2017.

At the 2018 Final Four, Minnesota president Eric Kaler, who is the chair of the NCAA Division I board of governors, said, “What we need to do is have a set of incentives and disincentives, also known as punishments, that are in place that will influence the behavior that we want to see.” In the same news conference, NCAA president Mark Emmert said that “stronger sanctions against bad behavior by the adults that are involved in this … would be a very positive step in the right direction.” And while announcing the findings of her commission’s look into the sport last April, Condoleezza Rice noted that “bad behavior is too often ignored and inadequately punished.”

However, it also should be noted that the committees making these rulings this week are completely separate entities. There is no crossover between the Committee on Infractions (Missouri ruling) and the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee (Hernandez and De Sousa rulings).

Could both deliberative bodies have sensed a growing sentiment within the NCAA to throw the book at rule breakers? Perhaps. But there is no tangible indication of a new, top-down directive to apply harsh sanctions.

There are two allegations shrouding De Sousa and complicating his future as an amateur athlete. Former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testified in court that he paid De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, $2,500. He also had agreed to pay him $20,000, but Gassnola claimed in court that he didn’t follow through on that payment. That payment was to help Falmagne “get out from under” a deal in which a Maryland booster had paid him $60,000.

According to court transcripts obtained by The Kansas City Star, attorney Michael Schachter attempted to get evidence submitted into trail that included Gassnola saying in a phone call recorded on wiretap: “I have been going around dropping bags [of money] to that idiot Fenny in order to get Kansas to re-sign with Adidas.”

There are also text exchanges between Kansas coaches and Gassnola where they essentially acknowledge the sneaker company’s role in helping the school obtain players. Self texted at one point: “I’m happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple real guys.”

Gassnola wrote at one point to Self: “I promise you I got this. I have never let you down. Except [DeAndre Ayton] lol. We will get it right.”

While the outside has viewed Kansas through a prism of skepticism because of the allegations surrounding De Sousa’s arrival there and the court testimony, Self has gone to great lengths to paint De Sousa as a victim. This has been a familiar strategy at Kansas, as the school famously declared it had been “named a victim” in a statement that was greeted with soundtracks of laugher around the sport. On his radio show this week, according to The Kansas City Star, Self used the phrases “beyond frustration” and “very disappointing” in relation to the timeline of the decision.

De Sousa has retained noted collegiate attorney Scott Tompsett, who has helped the likes of Jim Calhoun, Rick Pitino and Ben Howland. Tompsett released a statement earlier in January that said: “If adults did something illicit or against the rules, they did it without Silvio’s knowledge or involvement. Their actions and conduct can be dealt with through the courts and/or the NCAA major infractions process. It’s time for the NCAA to be fair to Silvio and immediately reinstate his eligibility.”

It would be surprising if this was Self’s and Kansas’ final battle with the NCAA. Information that arose in court also implicated assistant coach Kurtis Townsend in a potential pay-for-play agreement to land touted recruit Zion Williamson, who wound up at Duke. In a transcript of a wiretapped conversation between Townsend and Adidas consultant Merl Code that was read in court, but not admitted into evidence, Code tells Townsend that Williamson’s family is requesting cash, housing and a job in exchange for the player coming to Kansas. Townsend’s response: “I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Thus the De Sousa information, and the conversation regarding Williamson, is expected to lead to a thorough vetting by NCAA Enforcement once the legal part of the federal basketball corruption case is complete. Kansas is expected to be one of many schools that the NCAA will closely examine in the wake of the federal investigation.

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