NCAA and Big 12 Address with Ongoing Scandal

Another pre-season for NCAA basketball begins with yet another scandal in the headlines. A corruption scandal rocked the league last year, costing iconic coaches their jobs and muddying the reputations of some of the NCAA’s top hoops programs. 2018 is off to a similar start.

Recently, it was announced that star Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa will ride the pine “indefinitely” while the top-ranked Jayhawks wait to see what the consequences for his actions will be. De Sousa has been “connected” to the longstanding scandal in a way that may damage his eligibility. Some are already saying he may miss most or all of the season. It is considered certain he will miss the big season opener against Michigan State on November 6. Kansas fans and boosters are fighting mad.

In court, terms like “wire fraud” and “money funneling” were used to describe the actions of former Adidas executives and consultants, as well as NBA agents. One coach caught up in the scandal, TJ Gassnola, admitted that he had “facilitated” payments to De Sousa’s family in order to get him to commit to play for Kansas, a blatant recruiting violation.

This new evidence lead Kansas coaches to take the pre-emptive step of benching De Sousa until it could be determined whether or not he is actually eligible to play ball, or if the recruiting violations void that eligibility. Kansas, hoping to make a deep NCAA title run, cannot afford to have that on their record. It could lead to games forcibly voided or wins vacated. So, for the team, the precaution is necessary, but the situation is not sitting well with many.

When asked about the situation, Big 12 Conference Commissioner Bob Bowlsby declined to directly address the situation, saying: “The conference and the NCAA have intentionally deferred to the federal governing process and until that process is complete we can’t continue down that path…” Meaning, they aren’t answering questions until the investigations are complete.

Still, Bowlsby has a fine line to walk. His conference depends on branding deals and other economic partnerships to stay profitable. One of those is with Adidas, the brand at the center of the controversy. When asked his thoughts about the former Adidas representatives and other brands at the center of the scandal, Bowlsby was diplomatic: “Well, I know people at all of those companies that are involved and they operate with integrity in the ways I’ve encountered them… But clearly there is influence in the system and to the extent we can manage it and control it, we ought to do that.”

The statement was a deft mix of calling for accountability and reassuring an important financial partner the conference had its back. More of that careful messaging will be needed before this mess is sorted out, so we can expect to hear from Bowlsby, and others, again.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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