Saving KU’s bacon from NCAA violations cost $10 million

$10 million over six years.

That’s how much Kansas Athletics paid to defend the University of Kansas men’s basketball program from serious NCAA violations. In the end, KU got what it paid for: relatively minor sanctions over recruiting violations that could have cost the basketball powerhouse a postseason ban.

KCUR has tracked KU Athletics’ legal bills since they started rolling in, soon after recruiting violations surfaced in 2017 during a federal trial in New York where a former Adidas executive was charged with funneling tens of thousands of dollars to high school players in an attempt to steer them to blue chip programs.

NCAA.COM

The investigation finally ended in October, when the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process announced KU would go on probation for three years and vacate 15 wins from its spring 2018 campaign, when the Jayhawks reached the Final Four. That Final Four banner in Allen Fieldhouse has since come down.

A year before the IARP ruled, KU voluntarily suspended head coach Bill Self and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend for four games before the 2022 season. Some who tracked the developments saw the suspensions as a preemptive strike against more serious NCAA sanctions.

“We are hopeful these difficult self-imposed sanctions will assist in bringing the case to a conclusion,” KU Athletic Director Travis Goff said at the time.

With the investigation concluded, Goff told KCUR on Dec. 28 the self-imposed penalties were determined upon by multiple parties, including law firms outside the university, legal counsel within the university, athletic department administration and coach Self.

“All the variety of perspectives and opinions contributed to our decision to self-impose,” said Goff.

The legal effort was massive.

In 2023 alone, KU spent more than $1.7 million on legal fees at four firms, according to invoices obtained with the Kansas Open Records Act. In an email to KCUR, KU Athletics said some of the bills were for work other than the IARP investigation.

Goff told KCUR that because the alleged violations surfaced during a criminal trial, legal costs at first involved firms specializing in that area. As each layer of the investigation unfolded — from the NCAA infractions department to the IARP — more firms got involved.

“Over the time frame of significance, six years, there was some ebb and flow with the firms that were engaged,” Goff said.

Self even paid some of his own money for legal counsel, he said. “Part of that counsel was a shared cost with Kansas Athletics, and part was on his own accord as well.”

KU Athletics is funded by private donations, ticket sales, television contracts and merchandise. It is not taxpayer-funded. This year KU Athletics operating revenue was about $118 million, according to its NCAA financial statement.

Goff made clear that, since the KU Athletics budget is self-sufficient, none of the legal fees came from the university’s budget.

In March 2021, as the Jayhawks were marching toward their fourth national championship, more than 15 lawyers at firms in Overland Park, Kansas City, Philadelphia and Washington worked on the case. The total cost that month was $375,192.

Due to redactions in the hundreds of pages of invoices, it’s unclear exactly what type of work each firm was doing.

The Overland Park firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, which has represented KU for years, billed more than $2.1 million since 2017. Pillsbury, the international law firm based in New York, also came on board early and, since 2017, has billed KU almost $5.8 million.

In 2020, KU hired two more law firms to handle the NCAA infractions case. The Kansas City firm Husch Blackwell has billed $223,000. Hogan Lovells, another international firm based in Washington, has billed KU almost $3.5 million since 2020.

Goff, who has been athletic director since 2021, said defending the program against the investigation was always a priority — one worth the $10 million in legal fees.

“In short, it was (worth it),” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s still not painful to recognize the totality of cost that we had to put into this.”

But Goff says it was paramount to protect the KU brand, and, “at the end of the day, there’s a goodwill element to the impact of Kansas basketball.”

“There’s a direct financial implication,” Goff added. “You’re talking about years, decades and generations of helping drive enrollment to the University of Kansas.”

Greg Echlin/Sam Zeff – Kansas News Service
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