University of Kansas

A new federal lawsuit is filed against Adidas. How it might affect KU, other schools

A federal racketeering lawsuit filed Monday morning on behalf of basketball player Brian Bowen II has the potential to affect Kansas Athletics and other Adidas schools.

The suit filed by the McLeod Law Group — representing Bowen — seeks, in part, unspecified monetary damages from Adidas and associates (including Jim Gatto and T.J. Gassnola) and also to ban the shoe company from having any involvement in NCAA basketball.

Monday’s filing by Bowen’s attorneys, which was submitted in the U.S. District Court of South Carolina, includes a section titled, “Racketeering activity involving the University of Kansas.” There, Bowen’s attorneys argue that both KU coach Bill Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend were “aware of a bribe payment made to the legal guardian of Kansas recruit Silvio De Sousa by Adidas and communicated with Defendants Gatto and Gassnola about it.”

After that, Bowen’s attorneys lay out much of the previously known information regarding Self and Townsend that was earlier revealed both in court testimony and in sidebar sessions from October’s Adidas federal court trial. That includes text messages from Self and Townsend to Gassnola relating to the recruitment of De Sousa.

What happens from here will be of interest to KU and college basketball fans alike ... though it’s important to note that Bowen’s attorneys face many obstacles before getting this matter to their preferred path of a future civil jury trial in Columbia, S.C.

For one, Adidas likely will file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which would be ruled upon by a federal judge. When reached by The Star on Monday, Adidas gave this statement regarding Monday’s events: “We have reviewed these allegations and believe they have no merit. As we have stated previously, Adidas is committed to ethical and fair business practices, and we look forward to continuing to work with the NCAA and other stakeholders to improve the environment around college basketball.”

If Bowen’s attorneys make it past that motion to dismiss, their suit states they will make an effort to prove there has been a pattern of racketeering activity across the NCAA landscape. To do that, they would be seeking discovery on the roughly 30 schools who are sponsored by Adidas.

The information used by the government in the October federal trial would be a starting point. After that, Bowen’s attorneys could seek to obtain documents from KU’s compliance department, which would include coaches’ call logs, emails and text messages, in an attempt to build their case.

Even further down the line — and less likely still — Bowen’s attorneys also could seek the opportunity to get Townsend and Self in a deposition, where they could put them under oath and ask questions.

All those remain remote possibilities, though, and presumably would face further opposition from KU’s legal counsel if things made it that far.

No matter the resolution, KU now faces the reality of another party trying to prove wrongdoing by its coaches.

Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising, spoke to The Star about what Monday’s filing might mean for schools like KU and Louisville.

“It’s not good for them. It’s not good for Adidas, obviously. It’s not good for any of these programs,” Dorfman said. “The situation is only going to escalate. I think obviously there’s going to be more stories coming out. These top-notch programs are going to be exposed a little bit more, and ultimately, the NCAA is going to have to deal with this and figure out how to make some sort of pay-for-play situation work out, because it’s just damning to everybody.”

Bowen, a 2017 McDonald’s All-American who currently plays for the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League, was committed to Louisville before the FBI’s investigation into college basketball found that his signing with the school was influenced by the promise of NCAA-restricted payments by Adidas to Bowen’s father. The lawsuit seeks damages against Adidas caused by the effect that Bowen’s loss of NCAA eligibility will have on his potential NBA career and future earnings.

Dorfman believes the filing has some merit.

“He (Bowen) has a case. I just don’t know if he can prove it. It’s subjective,” Dorfman said. “If he’s trying to collect money saying that this affected his brand, yes I think it did affect his brand. It’s cost him a year at least at a top school where he’d have more exposure in the United States. Assuming he is a first-round-level pick, or top two rounds, this would’ve given him more of an opportunity to rise up in the draft.”

Bowen’s lead attorney, Mullins McLeod, said Monday that Bowen was hoping to do his part, with this lawsuit, to “free other student-athletes from corporate corruption that has no place in college basketball.”

“Adidas has thus far infiltrated college basketball with complete impunity,” McLeod said. “It is now time for them to answer for what they have done and to suffer the consequences of their corporate misconduct.”

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Jesse Newell

Jesse Newell covers University of Kansas athletics for The Star.

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