Tate | The new college basketball rivalry is between Nike and Adidas

Tate | The new college basketball rivalry is between Nike and Adidas

Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks, already immersed in recruiting transgressions, have now become the focal point of the first of three ugly basketball scandal trials in New York.

There is testimony that Billy Preston, whose car accident led to his ineligibility at Kansas last season, was influenced by a $90,000 family donation by Adidas. And Fenny Falmagne, guardian for still-active Jayhawk Silvio De Sousa, reportedly received $20,000.

This isn't Kansas vs. Duke, or Self vs. Mike Krzyzewski. It's a shoe company showdown with Adidas schools — Kansas has a $191-million deal — trying to upstage the Nike conglomerate headed by Duke and its lucrative contract running through 2027.

And don't forget Under Armour. According to court testimony, Adidas had to match a $20,000 Under Armour bid in behalf of Maryland to turn De Sousa toward Kansas.

Caught on tape

Somewhere along the line, in business decisions hard to fathom, these apparel companies have concluded that paying so-called amateurs under the table is a profitable marketing plan. And the task usually isn't selling the athlete.

It is satisfying the monetary demands of the parents or guardians, who may view this as a one-chance opportunity to cash in on a teenager's special talent.

Here's the transcript of an FBI wiretap of conversation between Adidas consultant Merl Code and Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend as they discussed current Duke freshman Zion Williamson.

Said Townsend, referring to Williamson's father: "Between me and you, you know, he asked about some stuff. You know?"

"I know what he's asking for," Code replied. "He's asking for opportunities from an occupational perspective, he's asking for cash in the pocket and he's asking for housing for him and his family."

Townsend, with or without Self's authorization, responded: "I've got to just try to work and figure out a way because if that's what it takes to get him for 10 months, we're going to have to do it some way."

Pushed to cheat

No payoff amount was mentioned over the phone.

But, in Williamson's case, it's certainly six figures. We have ample information on how far Adidas will go, based on wiretaps and trial testimony. Much of this was provided by Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola in exchange for a plea bargain to lessen his sentencing for fraud, money laundering, etc.

There are no wiretaps involving Nike, no connecting thread. But it must be obvious that — and this is just one example — Adidas wouldn't have made seven or eight payments to Brian Bowen Sr. in behalf of his son if Adidas didn't feel strong competition from its shoe company rival.

The elder Bowen acknowledged that he received $100,000 for his son's signing with Louisville, an Adidas school, after a wild recruitment ride that blew up following Brian Bowen Jr.'s decommitment from a Nike school, Michigan State.

Imagine, one dad, speaking freely with a grant of immunity, referenced unfulfilled offers of $150,000-plus from Oklahoma State, $100,000 from Creighton, $50,000 from Arizona and substantial bids from DePaul, Texas, Oregon and LaSalle.

A running tab

Back to the Williamsons. Maybe they were sold on the Carolina sunshine over a Kansas dust storm. Whatever! The 6-foot-6 forward is slated to be in the Duke lineup when the Blue Devils play Kentucky on Nov. 6 in Indianapolis.

With underground funneling so rampant, if Las Vegas oddsmakers established an over-under estimate on paid-for players in that game, it might reach double figures.

Just the start

Understand, the outcome of the federal trial, in which the prosecutors must show that the universities were victims of fraud, won't change how the NCAA ultimately views these events.

As part of the defense, lawyers for Adidas executive Jim Gatto, Gassnola's boss, argued he didn't defraud the universities because he was acting at the behest of coaches, including Self.

NCAA representatives in attendance are being handed multiple violations of NCAA rules, and the enforcement staff can use the court testimony in upcoming investigations. Several assistant coaches have been implicated but, with hands covering their eyes, millionaire head coaches have seemingly maintained deniability.

Coach K says this is a blip.

It's not.

Quid pro quo

What we're seeing is an age-old system: You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

Sounds like Illinois politics.

Self helped arrange the Jayhawks' ongoing 14-year contract with Adidas for $191 million. In exchange, Adidas feels obliged to help Self land top players, in the same way that Nike helps UNC and Duke. In a text with Gassnola, a dealer in multiple scams ranging from tax evasion to sham checks, Self explained "that's how us (sic) works ... at UNC and Duke (both Nike)."

"I promise you I got this," Gassnola texted back. "I have never let you down. Except (Deandre). Lol. We will get it right."

Self has a special knack of being "at home" with college presidents or crooks like Gassnola.

In September 2017, Gassnola said that he and his fiance had dinner with Self and his wife as well as Gatto and his wife.

They clearly understood each other. Gassnola and Gatto intended to do everything in their power, free-wheeling with Adidas money, to land five-star players for Kansas.

Regarding the one who got away, Gassnola said he paid $15,000 to a friend of 7-foot Deandre Ayton, now a Phoenix Suns rookie who declined his overtures on behalf of Kansas and played as a one-and-done freshman for Arizona and Nike last year.

Questions still loom

Do these revelations help to understand why the leading schools remain on top season after season?

And have you wondered why Illinois would schedule home-and-road with an Arizona operation which saw assistant coach Book Richardson plead guilty to federal bribery and, according to Gatto's attorney, once embarked on a process of organizing a $100,000-plus deal for Nassir Little ... thereby matching or topping Miami's offer?

The publicity apparently scared Little back to North Carolina.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com

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