Peak shamelessness: Kansas signs $196 million deal with Adidas

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - MARCH 23: Head coach Bill Self of the Kansas Jayhawks reacts to a play against the Auburn Tigers during their game in the Second Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 23, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Kansas and Bill Self had no problem playing the victim, and even less problem taking $196 million from the company that 'victimized' them. (Getty Images)

On April 11, 2018, Kansas issued a statement that began thusly: “Earlier today, we learned that the University of Kansas is named as a victim in a federal indictment.” The entity that allegedly victimized the Jayhawks basketball program was shoe and apparel company Adidas.

On April 24, 2019, all of 378 days after Kansas declared its victimization, the Jayhawks announced a 14-year shoe and apparel agreement worth $196 million with … Adidas.

So, yeah, it’s time for some victim shaming here.

A school that embraced the dubious concept of being victimized by a shoe company that broke NCAA rules (and federal law) now renews its business vows with said company. That’s not standard operating procedure on the part of an entity that sincerely believes it was defrauded and damaged. It is, however, standard shameless procedure in college athletics.

Actually, this is close to peak shamelessness.

Adidas bag man T.J. Gassnola, texting buddy and recruiting intermediary to Kansas head coach Bill Self, testified last fall that he threw around cash to make sure the Jayhawks got players. Merl Code, Adidas consultant, was on a wiretap transcript telling Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend that the asking price for mega-recruit Zion Williamson was a job for his stepfather, cash and housing for the prospect’s family. Townsend’s response: “… If that’s what it takes to get him here for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

This would seem to be institutionalized rule-breaking. But the federal government offered the stripped-bare Jayhawks a fig leaf of protection by saying the school was being harmed by Adidas’ bad boys. Kansas wore that fig leaf like a Versace suit.

Then the school doubled down on its victimhood by requesting $1 million in restitution in late February from convicted Adidas exec James Gatto. That in and of itself was brazen as hell — only to be topped by signing a long-term deal with the company two months later.

Funny, the word “victim” didn’t seem to come up Wednesday in Lawrence.

It stands to reason that neither Nike nor Under Armour was going to pay anywhere near as much to Kansas. And Adidas was desperate to keep the partnerships with its flagship programs. And so, if the money is right — and this is one of the largest apparel deals in college sports — universities will do anything to feed their sports addiction.

They’ll offer up some flimsy rationale, splutter out some rhetoric about integrity and then cash the checks without apology or restraint. Bad optics? They don’t care. Ridiculous inconsistencies? It will blow over. Brazen hypocrisy? Shrug it off and rally the base.

So many people are playing such obviously fraudulent roles in this charade that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But, limiting ourselves to just Kansas for the moment, here’s the all-star cast:

Douglas Girod, Kansas chancellor, in the role of Principled Educator-In-Chief. “Both we and Adidas have done our due diligence and thoroughly evaluated all factors related to this partnership, including the current environment related to college basketball,” Girod said Wednesday, according to the Kansas City Star. “We are confident about this renewed partnership and look forward to continuing our relationship with Adidas.”

Jeff Long, Kansas athletic director, in the role of Corruption Firewall Builder. “T.J. Gassnola was an employee of Adidas. He had an agreement with Adidas that put him in contact with our program,” Long said, according to The Star. “ ... We’ve spent months and months and [had] exhaustive conversations about going forward and how we will handle these things in the future and arrived at the conclusion that Adidas is committed like Kansas is to make sure that we abide by NCAA rules and certainly the law of the land.”

Bill Self, Well-Coached Coach. “I did not see anywhere, nor do I believe that we were thought of to be anything other than a victim in the situation,” he said to reporters last year, when the school was first named in a federal indictment. He got the buzzword right. His .817 winning percentage will answer any other questions regarding his continued employment.

Kansas fans, Diligent Deflectors. Every time the Jayhawks come up in this ongoing corruption saga, they ask, “What about Duke?”

Adidas, Reformed Corporate Sinner. A fresh zeal for NCAA rules compliance (at gunpoint) is the new three-stripe core value. The shoe company and one of the other schools it “victimized,” Louisville, took their mutual repentance up a notch a few months ago by announcing that it will help fund the university’s new Project on Ethical Leadership Excellence. Adidas is donating $1 million to the project over 10 years while maintaining a big-dollar apparel contract with Cardinals athletics. (First lecture in the Ethical Leadership Excellence project should be entitled, “How To Buy Your Way Out of Bad Publicity.”)

That Kansas chose to announce its renewed agreement with Adidas while the second federal trial is underway in New York seems a tad bold. Then again, this is a school that also currently is trying everything in its power to leverage sympathy for the ineligible Silvio De Sousa as he seeks reinstatement via an appeal to the NCAA — the Jayhawks aren’t really here to tiptoe toward what they want.

If Kansas cared as much about De Sousa as it says it does, the school would ask for his immediate reinstatement to any of the other 352 Division I schools in America. It would acknowledge that bringing him back to the place where Gassnola greased the skids is an embrace of an unfair competitive advantage without apology. It would, for the first time, reflect some ownership of this situation by the school.

If anyone is a victim here, it’s Silvio De Sousa. Not Kansas.

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