Bill Self's Lifetime Contract Makes Clear Where Kansas's Priorities Lie

The ongoing investigation clouding the men's basketball program did not seem to dissuade the Jayhawks' administration one bit.
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We like to win.

That was the loud, clear, unmistakable message from Kansas on Friday. We like to win, we don’t care how, we don’t care what NCAA sanctions may come, we don’t care about anything but continuing to win. Thus, Bill Self is Coach For Life.

Rock, Chalk, Scofflawhawk!

In the throes of an infractions process that has resulted in major allegations from NCAA enforcement, which could lead to huge penalties, Kansas has up and given Self—who is personally charged with a Level I violation—a lifetime contract. It’s a rolling five-year deal that specifically states he cannot be fired for cause due to NCAA sanctions. It is impressively brazen, and also extremely on-brand for the school that claimed victimhood in the federal corruption scandal, sued Jim Gatto, broke out the money cannons for Midnight Madness, and then complained that the scandal has hurt recruiting.

I mean, at least Kansas isn’t trying to be something it’s not. It is admitting that winning is all that matters and skipping the pretense. The school release announcing Self’s lifetime contract is appropriately devoid of the usual puffery about “integrity” and “character” and “academics” and “doing it the right way.”

Chancellor Doug Girod stuck to the meat and potatoes: “For almost 20 years, Coach Self has embodied the spirit and tradition of the University of Kansas, leading our men’s basketball program to a national championship, 15 Big 12 titles and 17 NCAA tournament appearances.” There you have it: championships are the coin of the realm at Kansas, though you’d like to think they could win more than two national titles in the last 68 years.

Interim athletic director Kurt Watson had this to say: “I have known Bill for many years, but working closely with him over the past few weeks in my current role has shown me even more so on a daily basis how deeply he cares about this program.” Watson has been the stopgap AD because Kansas fired the last AD, Jeff Long, after the Les Miles creepiness seeped out of LSU and led to his resignation in Lawrence. So the school has an interim AD, an interim football coach, a huge NCAA infractions case … but a basketball coach for life, baby.

The school is facing five Level I allegations—the most severe the NCAA can hand down—related to men’s basketball. Among them are a lack of institutional control charge and a lack of head coach control charge that is aimed directly at Self. The NCAA also has a long list of aggravating factors in the case and a short list of mitigating factors, which means the potential penalties could skew to the high end of the NCAA penalty matrix.

In an aggravated case, the postseason ban penalty is two to four seasons. If the NCAA hits Kansas with a four-year ban, even Coach For Life Bill Self would struggle to keep the program relevant.

And then there are the potential coach penalties. In the Notice of Allegations, the NCAA wrote, “The enforcement staff believes a hearing panel could enter a show-cause order. …” An aggravated case with a show-cause penalty could result in a suspension of the head coach for 50–100% of a season. Kansas seems willing to ride out a season without Self as its coach, if necessary.

Self’s new contract does state that he would receive only half his allotted salary for the period of time he is suspended, if that sanction is handed down. But as noted by the Kansas City Star, that doesn’t affect the $2.435 million retention bonus he’s set to receive every year.

Kansas has shown a willingness to lie to itself and its fans (and the NCAA) about the school’s culpability in the infractions case, which centers on Adidas reps forking over piles of cash to Jayhawks players. The school is clinging to the laughable premise that said Adidas reps (specifically Gatto, T.J. Gassnola and Merl Code) actually defrauded the school by paying players to go to Kansas, and that the school was stunned to learn that such shenanigans were transpiring. That led to the dirtiest deal of them all: Kansas suing Gatto, a mid-level Adidas employee, for $1.1 million. He wound up agreeing to pay a far smaller amount in restitution, but the school’s intent was to financially ruin a guy who was trying to help the basketball team win games.

That’s not how any of it works, of course—the shoe companies are very much doing the bidding of the schools by paying players, and the coaches very much understand what’s going on. The Adidas reps weren’t housed in the campus hotel for Late Night on the same floor with recruit Billy Preston by accident (although the school has argued that). Per Self’s famous text to Gassnola, which was entered into evidence at the federal trial, “Just got to get a couple real guys.”

The “real guys” who have come to Kansas to play for Self include Billy Preston, whose family received at least $70,000 from Gassnola; Silvio De Sousa, whose legal guardian was cashing in to a lesser degree via Gassnola; Cliff Alexander, who was declared ineligible in 2015 after his family took money from a financial adviser; Josh Jackson, whose mother was paid $2,700 in 2015–16 by aspiring agent Christian Dawkins, per Dawkins’s expense reports filed to ASM Sports agency.

Of course, Kansas’s history of recruiting “real guys” also predates Self. The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations cites six other major infractions cases involving the school between 1957–2006, most of them tied to basketball. Fact is, Kansas has been amazingly successful at getting talented players from places like New York, California, Philadelphia and Detroit to come to the little slice of prairie heaven that is Lawrence. Dating back to the days of Wilt Chamberlain in the 1950s, Kansas seemed to have a knack for finding city kids who just like looking at waving wheat fields. So in that sense, Bill Self is merely keeping alive a longstanding tradition.

But late in this past season, which ended with a diminished Jayhawks team failing to win the Big 12 and being routed in the second round of the men's NCAA tournament, Self did lament the current talent drain at the school. “Our playing field has been more difficult recruiting against the people we normally recruit against just because we have the NCAA situation hanging over our heads,” he said in mid-February. Darn the luck.

About the only area of Self’s new contract in which the school does not prostrate itself before its star coach is when it comes to buyout. Kansas would only owe him $5.41 million, his full single-year compensation, to part ways. That’s not a prohibitive number—but it’s also not insignificant for a school that has hemorrhaged money for football coaches, athletic directors and NCAA legal fees in recent years.

Yes, it’s good to be Bill Self. Not only is he not getting fired for potential major NCAA sanctions, he’s being rewarded with extended job security. Kansas likes to win, and Kansas doesn’t care how desperately obvious that is to the rest of America.