Longtime Kansas basketball assistant coach Kurtis Townsend knew about potential payments to entice a prized recruit to enroll at KU, defense arguments in a federal court case suggest.
Townsend discussed the financial requests of the recruit’s family during a phone call with a former Adidas employee, according to defense attorneys in the college basketball corruption trial that’s been playing out in a New York courtroom.
So, now what?
Until this week, Kansas had been able to deflect much of the culpability for what clearly appear to be pay-to-play arrangements involving coveted recruits. Kansas had cast Adidas as the villain in a corrupt system and the university as the unwitting victim.
But a phone call between Townsend and an Adidas employee has ensnared one of head coach Bill Self’s most trusted lieutenants in this scandal.
The fact that the judge in the trial denied a request for call to be entered into evidence doesn’t change the damning details of the conversation. According to the defense, after the Adidas employee mentioned a recruit’s requests for money and housing, Townsend said on the call: “If that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”
Head coach Bill Self, KU Athletics and the university now have a lot of explaining to do about questionable recruiting practices. KU’s coach certainly knows every single detail about his own program. At least he should.
And Self’s “aw-shucks” plausible deniability defense won’t cut it anymore.
Neither will the oft-repeated argument that in college basketball, everyone cheats — or at least the winning programs do.
The university should conduct an investigation into the specific allegations against Townsend and more broadly, KU basketball recruiting. The findings should be made public.
While KU coaches and other officials had managed to get by with non-answers and no comments before Kansas took center stage in the trial, this crisis now demands transparency and actual information.
Unfortunately, being open or responsive has not been KU basketball’s modus operandi.
Predictably, Townsend was not available to answer questions. Self recently said the athletic department would comment once the trial is over.
KU associate athletic director Jim Marchiony deferred questions to KU director of strategic communications Joe Monaco. Monaco said this week that it’s not appropriate for the university to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing.
Closing ranks is what KU seems to do best when questioned about alleged misdeeds. Officials can still hide behind the fact no payments have been directly linked to KU. Or they can continue to claim to be an innocent bystander, somehow oblivious to what is clearly widespread corruption in the sport.
Of course, there is little motivation for Self to take action unless he’s backed into a corner or the NCAA forces him into one. Fans will still fill Allen Fieldhouse because they want the team to win.
But the trial has exposed the price of poker in college basketball. And KU is part of the problem.
Will Kansas make Townsend the fall guy and continue with business as usual? Or will Self take a leading role in fixing a broken system?
To be sure, it’s rotten luck that Townsend and KU were caught up in the federal probe despite the involvement of other schools and coaches. But Kansas officials now have a responsibility to act — and to be part of proposing solutions.
KU officials could try to explain away Townsend’s statements. But in the context of high-stakes basketball recruiting, we know exactly what he meant.
Townsend should pay a price for his role in this scandal. He wouldn’t be the first assistant coach to shoulder the blame for the shady side of the sport.
But punishing Townsend is only the first step toward cleaning up KU basketball.