Can Jayhawks be classified as “big game?”
The ones calling Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, their home might, and the NCAA has gone a-huntin’.
Make no mistake, the NCAA is not going for a slap on the wrist with the Kansas men’s basketball team, not after the allegations filed against the program this week. In a nutshell, the NCAA believes that not only did an Adidas consultant cheat to get prospects to sign with KU, but coach Bill Self at least knew about it and, if he wasn’t actively involved, he didn’t do anything to stop it.
The NCAA isn’t just looking to swing a hammer. This is Thor wielding Mjolnir to call down the lightning.
And don’t think that Kansas is going to slither out of punishment because it’s one of the “blue-blood” programs in college basketball. This is a different era for the NCAA. It wants no more egg on its face after some of its high-profile screw-ups of the past. If that association makes an allegation public, it’s confident it has the alleged perpetrator dead to rights.
This isn’t like your normal court of law, either. No “innocent until proven guilty.” A notice of allegations works like this: The NCAA is saying, “This is what we have on you. You have two choices. Start punishing yourself now to save yourself from harsher punishment from us later, or make an overwhelmingly strong case as to how we’re wrong.”
Considering the tone of the responses coming out of Lawrence, the former option ain’t happening. So KU likely will go with the latter, attempting to shoot holes in the NCAA’s argument, and that probably won’t end well for the program.
So what sort of punishments could come from being embroiled in an athletic apparel company forking out thousands of dollars to push blue-chippers toward your school? I could see a postseason ban. Scholarship reductions are very possible. So are show-cause penalties for coaches so long they’d collect Social Security before they’d ever collect another college coaching paycheck. And Self himself? If his alleged connection to all this sticks, he has to be out.
If all that — or even most of that — happens, the sound you’ll hear are the tectonic plates underneath the Big 12 shifting so violently, they’d create new continents in a matter of minutes.
What happens if Kansas’ men’s hoops program gets all but wiped out? This, after all, is the program that has won or shared 14 regular-season conference titles, a streak that finally ended this past season. A power vacuum at the top of the Big 12 appears, and the effects could be seismic.
In a normal year, almost every team in the Big 12 is competitive. This past season, only two — Oklahoma State and West Virginia — finished with fewer than 20 total wins. And even then, WVU had wins over Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas. Now, that competitive field isn’t playing for the silver medal. Those teams are going for the gold.
A Big 12 without the Jayhawks perched at the top suddenly becomes wide open. Some coaches who might have been using their current Big 12 jobs as a steppingstone to bigger programs might be more apt to stick around, now that they have a better chance at winning a conference title that should cement at least a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Also, some coaches who might have considered retiring in the next couple of years could reconsider and extend that last ride a few more seasons. Why not stay a spell and see what playing in a new-look Big 12 could be like?
Now, this isn’t to say the NCAA still can’t botch this. Heaven knows it’s track record isn’t spotless. But put it this way: The NCAA hit Georgia Tech men’s basketball with probation, fines and a one-year postseason ban over impermissible benefits totaling a couple thousand dollars. Kansas, if found culpable, is probably in for much, much worse.
And the Big 12 may never be the same again.