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Keith Strudler: Lack Of Institutional Control

You’ve likely heard the story about a strong-armed leader who’s run afoul of rules and regulations. Someone who’s ignored the limitations of the job, conventional guardrails and ethical norms. Someone who currencies in illicit payoffs and who uses a series of lieutenants to do his dirty work. Someone that is now staring down the barrel of institutional inquiry and oversight, who, regardless of how much power he may have, may soon find himself out of a job.

I’m speaking, of course, of Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self. Just yesterday, the NCAA charged Kansas with a lack of institutional control, and more specifically tagged Coach Self with responsibility violations. In other words, as the head coach of the program at the center of this massive NCAA investigation, Self is responsible for all the things that happen with Kansas men’s basketball. That’s part of what happens when you earn some 6 or 7 million dollars a year, depending on the season. It means that sooner or later, the buck stops there.

What that also means is Bill Self will have to answer for the five Level I NCAA violations – the most serious kind – tied to the Jayhawks basketball program. Perhaps on a positive note, he’s not responsible for the two Level II infractions tied to Kansas football.

Most of the violations are tied to Kansas basketball corroborating with their apparel supplier Adidas to pay five-star basketball prospects under the table to go to Kansas. That includes a $90,000 payout to a recent recruit’s mother and a $20,000 check to another’s guardian to get him out of a previous payout from Under Armour to go to Maryland. So if nothing else, Kansas isn’t the only school on the hot seat.

Particularly problematic for Kansas and Self are texts that seem to indicate he knew all about the illicit payoffs as a way to bring talent to the mid-west. Self also seemed to say that this is standard fare at UNC and Duke as well, which would confirm most everyone’s worst suspicions about elite college basketball, where coaches are essentially hoping to attract stars for a short hold-over before making millions in the NBA.

For now, Kansas as an institution is considering their options. On the one hand, they aren’t fully denying impropriety. On the other hand, it’s not a full mea culpa either. They’ve got some 90 days to respond, after which I’m guessing the NCAA will levy a fairly severe penalty, as much as anything the NCAA does has more than temporary impact. Whether Bill Self survives probably depends on how hot the smoking gun actually is and the political will of Kansas upper administration – or perhaps that of the University’s financial supporters.

Of course, there’s a much larger question here than whether or not Bill Self loses his job or how bad the NCAA punishes Kansas. The question really is whether the current system of college basketball fits into the economic landscape of elite athletics. The easy answer, of course, is no – or at least not well.

Right now, there’s a whole lot of people who stand to benefit off the performance of a small group of young men with elite basketball skills. Those people include a handful of coaches at particular universities – like Bill Self at Kansas, and say Roy Williams at UNC. It includes networks and sponsors. It’s NBA teams that rely on colleges as a proving ground. And it includes the massive industrial athletic shoe complex – places like Adidas and Nike and Under Armour, companies that build their fortunes on the appeal of mega stars that peddle their products. Just try to imagine Nike without the history of Michael Jordan. Which is why Adidas had no problem collaborating with Kansas to make sure the best future NBA prospects are happily wearing Adidas shoes at an Adidas school. Which, under the current system at least, is one of the only ways that amateur basketball talent can make money for their services, a process that will likely cost Bill Self his job and possibly land a couple of assistant coaches in jail for wire fraud.

Is there a solution? Perhaps you could pay college athletes. Or maybe you could let them at least sign their own shoe deals, money that current goes to the University and its head coach. Or maybe you could just let them go straight to the pros out of high school, which might at least cut some layer of corruption, if that is the right word.

For Bill Self, that’s philosophical talk for another time. For now, like someone else you may know, he’s just trying to keep his job.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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