So, not the greatest sports year at my noble alma mater.
A series of fights between the football and basketball teams. A football coach forced out because of abusive behavior. A football team that fell apart, lost seven-straight, and pissed a chance at a division title away. A basketball player, who was already in the doghouse, decided to shoot his mouth off during the season. A stunning early loss in the NCAA tournament. And now this ticket scalping garbage to close out the year.
I’m ready for the 2010-11 college sports year to start.
As I’ve followed the news on the emerging ticket scandal. reactions have been predictably split: KU fans think it’s an embarrassment and something that should be taken seriously, but not an incident that should trigger any kind of NCAA attention. The non-KU fans, on the other hand, think it is several magnitudes larger than simply an embarrassment or oversight, and just the tip of the iceberg that will end in every basketball player that’s arrived on campus in the past decade being declared ineligible, all wins erased, the 2008 title being vacated, and the entire athletic program shuttered for a couple years then forced to beg its way into the Missouri Valley.
Have I summed both sides arguments up well?
In all the reports I’ve read, at this point there’s no evidence that this is anything more than a monumental clusterfuck in the offices of the athletic department, unrelated to coaches, players, or recruiting. For all of Lew Perkins’ qualities, it appears he’s guilty of trusting the wrong people and not bothering to check their work. I know a few people who know a few people and several of them were amazed that any trust was placed in one particular person who is in the midst of the scandal. No one I know who dealt with that person has a good thing to say about him. Perhaps Perkins dismissed the complaints about how that employee performed his job thinking it was just more bitching about the changes in ticket allocation. Whatever his excuse, Lew failed big time.
I think it’s doubtful Lew loses his job over this. Especially with the conference realignment rumors that are blowing around. Despite his failings, most consider Lew the ideal person to lead KU through this process. While the athletic department did ok with Dru Jennings running the show in the interim between Al Bohl and Perkins, I don’t think this is a moment when you want either a new or temporary head of the department. Now what happens after that is another story. It would not surprise me to see Lew retire as soon as KU’s conference fate is confirmed.
Of course, there is potentially more to this. Late in both articles that Yahoo! has published so far, Jason King mentions there are a number of players who came through the Pump brothers’ summer teams that ended up at KU. While there is no connecting of dots, the implication is that perhaps the Pumps were funneling players to KU because of the money they were making off of scalped KU tickets.
While we can’t dismiss that possibility completely, it doesn’t seem likely. Pump alums ended up at KU under different coaching staffs and athletic administrations. That kind of stuff tends to stick to one coaching staff or another, and not survive a change in oversight from the top of the AD. There are a number of Pump players who were heavily recruited by KU yet ended up at other schools. Also, if the relationship was as quid pro quo as some would suggest, word would have got out long ago that the Pumps were acting as KU’s West Coast World Wide Wes. “Of course another Pump player signed with KU…” would be the refrain each fall when another kid with ties to them put his name to an LOI for KU. You won’t find a lot of nice things said about the Pump brothers, but you also won’t find those murmurs about their relationship with the KU program that are always around when something is going on.
There’s no doubting that the relationship between the Pump brothers and the KU program is a little more cozy than I’m comfortable with. But based on what we know now, there’s no evidence that there was an effort to push players to KU because of the ticket situation.
What does worry me, though, is that Yahoo! is involved. The reference to recruits in the stories they’ve published so far is ominous. They’re far more likely to stick with the story than the NCAA would be. Several of the reporters involved in the investigation were part of the look at USC football, in which Yahoo! basically shamed the NCAA into investigating that program. While the NCAA generally only gets involved if they are made aware of specific recruiting violations, a news enterprise like Yahoo! has plenty of time and money to spend on digging to see if there’s any more dirt in Lawrence.
If I’m not too worried about the Pump brothers connection, why am I worried about Yahoo!? Because every program, no matter how clean or dirty, has skeletons. Whether it’s flat-out paying players, falsifying grades, setting players up with “summer jobs” that require little work in return for embellished pay, defrauding student loan agencies, or just $100 handshakes from alums and athletes having their bar tabs waved off, stuff happens at every school. Yahoo! may not dig up a true scandal, but if they can put together enough of those $100 handshakes, spurious summer jobs, and credit accounts at local clothes shops and then connect those to someone who contributes to the athletic program, they’ve got themselves a nice story. And then maybe the NCAA does decide to take interest.
I’m hopeful that my faith in Bill Self is well-placed. For the record, I don’t think he is squeaky clean. He’s not afraid to go right to the edge of where the rules are, or wade into the numerous gray areas of recruiting.1 But I think he’s smart enough to know he doesn’t need to get truly dirty to win at KU. I hope that has been well communicated to his assistants.
Honestly, though, nothing would surprise me anymore. It’s been a long, hard year for Jayhawks. I just hope that it doesn’t get even worse.
- See the Ronnie Chalmers situation, for example. ↩