Editorial: Off-court troubles have cast a cloud over Kansas basketball

The Big 12 men’s basketball tournament begins this week in Kansas City. The Power & Light District soon will be filled with team colors and celebratory chants. And the basketball is pretty good, too.

The Kansas Jayhawks are the favorite. Yet — and there’s no way around this — KU’s season has been clouded by questionable off-court activities and a lack of transparency in the program.

Coach Bill Self indelicately dubbed his team’s self-inflicted wounds “crap and distractions.” That’s an unfortunate word choice amid allegations of domestic violence and vandalism against a Kansas women’s basketball player.

Some of the team’s problems are the fault of the student-athletes. But much of the responsibility rests with Self and KU officials who have had little to say about Kansas players’ misbehavior.

Four members of the team have had widely publicized run-ins with authorities, all revealed this year. The university has imposed public consequences for only one of the players.

To be fair, two of the incidents are causes for concern but not overreaction. Possession of drug paraphernalia and a traffic-related warrant are unacceptable, but lots of university students who don’t play basketball make similar missteps.

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Two other incidents are more serious. Freshman star Josh Jackson is accused of damaging a car belonging to women’s basketball player McKenzie Calvert outside a Lawrence bar. Jackson will face one count of misdemeanor property damage in April.

Earlier, a university investigation determined that sophomore guard Lagerald Vick likely struck Calvert and kicked her in the face in 2015, a finding reported by The Star in January.

Neither male player faced public suspension after these disturbing events. In fact, the only player who appears to have publicly suffered is Calvert, who was suspended after the incident at the bar, her father said.

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Self has said his players were dealt with “in house.” What, exactly, that means is unclear. But what message do the coach and the university send when keeping players on the court appears more important than punishing alleged violent acts against a woman?

In the college and pro ranks, violence against women by athletes is a critical problem. Self could deliver an unequivocal message that such behavior is unconditionally unacceptable at Kansas.

Instead, we get this from the coach: “It’s certainly been taxing. … Kids should be able to go out and relax and have fun and play the game they love, even though it’s playing for pretty high stakes. And those things that transpire probably didn’t allow them to do that quite as much, which is disappointing.”

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In fact, the real disappointment was Self’s public response to these incidents.

His supervisors aren’t off the hook, either. Everyone from the Board of Regents on down should insist on the highest standards of behavior from all students, especially those who wear the school’s name on their shirts — and the people who coach them.

Privacy laws may preclude KU officials from discussing many of the details of what has transpired. But nothing is stopping Self or others at the university from making clear their commitment to instilling values in the young men who don the school’s uniform, teaching them to respect women, not treat them as problems that must be managed.

There is much to enjoy about college athletics. And with 13 straight conference titles, Self has given KU fans plenty to celebrate. But this season also will be remembered for an opportunity lost when it comes to revealing the Kansas basketball program’s priorities.

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