Egregious. Severe. Defiant.
Those were just a few of the words that filled a 92-page NCAA enforcement staff document the University of Kansas released last week regarding the NCAA's investigation into the Jayhawks men's basketball program.
They were strong words. They should lead to strong penalties for coach Bill Self, his staff and the program in general.
But will they? Haven't we heard similar bold language in the past regarding the since-settled, 16-year academic scandal at the University of North Carolina? Wasn't Miami going to get the death penalty a while back for booster Nevin Shapiro's numerous wrongs? Didn't NCAA president Mark Emmert use eerily familiar language when his organization appeared to overreach its authority in the Penn State child molestation case centered around former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky?
None of those words were necessarily wrong when spoken. But what did they lead to? For the most part, nothing (UNC), next to nothing (Miami) or a lot of sound and fury (Penn State) that was greatly muted on appeal.
Because of that, what ultimately becomes of the Kansas investigation sparked by the FBI's earlier probe into college hoops corruption and centered on the role played by shoe and apparel giant Adidas in that scandal is uncertain, at best.
And if it's more of the same, if it again becomes big talk and little or no action, should this not be the end of the NCAA as we know it, or at least its investigative arm?
Are we about to see the NCAA cave in to illegal recruiting as spectacularly as it did to academic fraud in the UNC case? Wrote Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education on the day UNC's $18 million worth of legal fees helped it skate: "(The NCAA) exhausted the last available measure of accountability for what was arguably the most pervasive academic fraud at a major research university in at least a generation."
Then again, in much the same way the Tar Heels' cheats were never as easy a catch as they appeared due to byzantine NCAA rules that force a university to admit to academic fraud before major college athletics' governing body can penalize it for it, the Jayhawks' legal eagles may have their own edge over the NCAA's plan to argue that Adidas was a booster for the university.
Given that this opens the door for Kansas to claim Nike should be considered a booster for Duke or Kentucky basketball or Alabama and Ohio State football, to name but four, the possibilities for finger pointing, name calling and a considerably widening scandal are endless.
For instance, prior to Marvin Bagley III signing with Nike-sponsored Duke a few years ago, his father was reportedly paid a six-figure salary by Nike for running a select team, the Phoenix Phamily, for which Marvin III played. To that end, when the following text conversation between Self and disgraced Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola surely makes its way into the NCAA's case, don't be surprised to see the Jayhawks coach's legal team attempt to smear the elite Nike programs with the same broad brush.
Self, soon after KU signed a $191 million contract extension with the company: "I'm happy with Adidas. Just got to get a couple of real guys."
Gassnola: "In my mind, it's KU, Bill Self. Everyone else fall into line. Too (expletive) bad. That's what's right for Adidas basketball. And I know I am RIGHT. The more you win, have lottery pics and you happy. That's how it should work in my mind."
Self: "That's how [it] works at UNC and Duke."
In other words, Kansas probably won't so much deny the five Level I charges against it as it will embrace the idea that everyone else is doing it, too, so how can you pick on us?
And, unfortunately, it's a somewhat fair argument. After all, UNC's greatest crime in the jaundiced eye of many wasn't that it committed academic fraud, because almost every Power Five conference school is guilty of some sort of academic fraud or questionable help, but that it blatantly did so while selling its "Carolina Way" as a bastion of integrity.
And don't think that Adidas-backed Louisville, caught in the NCAA's crosshairs at the moment, won't do the same, especially because no one currently with the Cardinals was around at the time of their violations under former coach Rick Pitino.
Still, who may ultimately be on trial here, and rightfully so, is the NCAA. Yes, on the face of it, this is about Kansas basketball and its complete disregard for NCAA rules in recent years, if not longer.
But in reality, if the Jayhawks somehow emerge even semi-victorious, this could be, and should be, the NCAA's last stand. Its continued total incompetence in yet again attempting to bring one of its worst miscreants to justice would be all that should be needed to hand it the same death penalty previously dodged by so many who mind-blowingly slipped through its enforcement sieve.