KANSAS CITY — Bill Self wandered over to the media area, his head and eyes searching for his name card to where each of the Big 12’s men’s basketball coaches was stationed for media day.
A reporter, one of the dozens entrenched in front of a table designated for the Kansas coach, quickly waved over to Self, as if to tell him to follow the trail of media members. They were, after all, swarming to analyze and dissect his words as he, and his employer, has come under scrutiny in the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption.
The league’s annual event turned into a quasi-interrogation of Self (Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was also grilled). Self commanded the majority of attention as several Big 12 coaches sat alone, or with just one or two other reporters, at their respective tables.
Perhaps this isn't surprising, considering Kansas usually attracts attention having won an outright or a share of the regular season title in 14 consecutive years. But (most) reporters weren't here for that. The questions were more pointed.
“I’m not going to sit here and defend myself because I know who we are, and I know how we conduct our business, and I’m proud about that. That has not changed at all,” Self said.
This breakout session came two hours after he gave a forewarning to the masses — he was under a mandate not to comment.
As much as Self tried to focus on basketball, the questions still came.
“The reality is, I am upbeat. Why should I, as a leader of our program, why should I let things that are going on somewhere else affect how I would be around my players or how I coach my team?” he asked rhetorically. “You’re not much of a leader if that’s the case. I should be able to handle both and certainly, I will.”
He stated the obvious — dealing with some of the media obligations isn't the most pleasant but that he won't run from it since it goes with the territory.
Self was asked about his reputation, his legacy and if it’s frustrating to not share his side of the story.
“Anytime somebody punches you, your initial tendency is to want to fight back. I don’t think that’s unusual,” he said. “Sometimes the best thing you can say based on the situation is nothing.”
Earlier in the morning, Bowlsby didn’t field questions on the main stage, rather he entertained reporters in a breakout session that lasted 17 minutes and 10 seconds. All 28 questions pertained to the FBI investigation, Kansas, the black cloud over college basketball or some combination of all three — some of which led to awkward moments.
“Any time there are accusations made, we take them very seriously. Integrity in our conference is vitally important. It goes right to the heart of the culture of the conference,” Bowlsby said.
“I am certainly not going to pre-judge any outcomes. There’s lots of things that get bantered around in the media or that anecdotally come up that don’t have anything to do with what’s going on in the courtroom. So we’re just going to have to wait and see and we’ll respond appropriately.”
At the heart of the matter is testimony, most notably text messages, from the past several weeks of a federal trial that wrapped up Wednesday afternoon with three defendants — Adidas executive James Gatto, former Adidas consultant Merl Code and former sports agent Christian Dawkins — found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Kansas was one of several schools to come up in the investigation. T.J. Gassnola, an ex-Adidas consultant, testified he paid the family of former Kansas forward Billy Preston $89,000 and the guardian of Silvio De Sousa $2,500.
Gassnola rebuked claims that Self or his staff knew, although defense attorneys claimed the contrary.
Kansas announced Wednesday morning de Sousa would be held from competition "pending the outcome of an eligibility review.”
Self later said the review is a joint collaboration between the NCAA and the university.
“Silvio knew this could happen, but he wasn’t officially told this by me until (Tuesday) night,” Self said. “We wanted to wait as long as we possibly could to determine if, in fact, the trial would be over, so therefore maybe we would be told how the process would then take place concerning his eligibility review.”
Two additional trials are set for 2019, meaning Kansas could remain tight-lipped until those conclude.
Bowlsby was pressed for his opinion on Kansas’ name appearing during the trial, but he didn’t budge, offering only that the conference and NCAA intentionally deferred to the federal government process.
“I’m not going to get into talking about the trial. I haven’t read the transcripts. I don’t have any insider information, and it’s premature,” he said.
As for the NCAA, all eyes will be on the organization to see if they crack down and punish, or at least investigate, the matter.
“I fully expect that there would be a follow-up investigation as a result of what’s going on in the court cases,” Bowlsby said.
Why is that significant? In August, the NCAA overhauled its enforcement process that now allows for the use of findings information from other proceedings, including a court of law, government agency or accrediting body.
Bowlsby noted the significance of the case and said he thinks this could be a test of the new structure.
“It’s very much in its embryonic stages. It takes a while to transition from what we’ve been doing to what we’re going to do in the future,” he said.
“Previously (using information court proceedings) has not been the case. That alone makes this a different environment.”