LAWRENCE — The relationship between University of Kansas and Adidas will continue for a long, long time.
KU on Wednesday morning announced a renewal of its partnership with the apparel giant, a 14-year extension that goes through June 30, 2031. KU will receive an average of $14 million annually through the life of the new deal, which is retroactive to 2017-18.
KU and Adidas first teamed up in 2005, last extending their agreement in 2013.
The partnership was due to expire this year, and while an extension of a similar nature had been announced in September 2017, news of the federal government’s probe into illicit payments in college basketball recruiting broke the following month, and Adidas’ own involvement in the scandal — three men with connections to the company were found guilty of wire fraud and other various charges last October — slowed the finalization of the extension.
Further complicating the matter was the alleged involvement of former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola with recruits targeted by athletic programs sponsored by the shoe company, including Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa, who eventually committed to KU. A witness at last October’s trials, Gassnola in testimony acknowledged making under-the-table payments to De Sousa’s guardian, Fenny Falmagne, and to Preston’s mother, Nicole Player, in attempts to steer the top-tier recruits to the Jayhawks, though Gassnola also stated KU’s coaches weren’t aware of his actions.
De Sousa, a forward with the Jayhawks, missed his entire sophomore campaign and has been ruled ineligible by the NCAA through the 2019-20 season, and while KU is appealing that decision, De Sousa has declared for the NBA Draft and will remain in the professional ranks if the appeal is rejected.
First-year athletic director Jeff Long said in a teleconference with reporters that while the college basketball corruption saga caused KU to pause finalizing its agreement with Adidas, both he and chancellor Douglas Girod came away from conversations with the company comfortable enough to dedicate the next decade-plus to the partnership.
“I think that certainly when the indictments came out in that fall it caused us to pause and then refocus on (those) negotiations,” Long said, “and then that’s why it’s taken really quite some time now to finalize the agreement because we were concerned and we worked with Adidas through those months to make sure we had the assurances that we were looking for to make sure we had a partner who had the same set of values that we did, one that wanted to comply with the NCAA rules and obviously with the legal and law enforcement as well.”
Long said last April’s findings by the College Basketball Commission, chaired by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, found that the problems plaguing college basketball went further than a single organization, a view shared by both Long and KU.
“I think it crosses the lines of many shoe and apparel companies that are engaged in college athletics, and so I do think it is bigger than just one company,” Long said. “We’re certainly going to work with our partner to make sure we do things the right way.”
Regarding the involvement of a figure like Gassnola, whom KU had to identify as a booster as a procedural move for the NCAA in the initial reinstatement process for De Sousa, Long said there have been “many, many” conversations between the university and Adidas to ensure “these things do not happen in the future.”
“T.J. Gassnola was an employee of Adidas. He had an agreement with Adidas that put him in contact with our program,” Long said. “As I said earlier, we spent months and months in exhaustive conversations about going forward and how we will handle things in the future (and) arrived at the conclusion that Adidas is committed like Kansas is to make sure that we abide by the NCAA rules and certainly the law of the land. So we are comfortable and excited to move forward with Adidas.”
The new agreement — which includes an annual $500,000 contribution from Adidas to the university’s academic end in a student enrichment program labeled Leadership Scholars — is frontloaded, with $11 million base compensation in 2019-20 and 2020-21 far outpacing the second-highest base compensation periods ($5.3 million in the contract’s final two years). Long said that was a point negotiated during the initial discussions, a holdover from the delayed $350 million renovation project focused primarily on David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium that was rolled out the in September 2017, the same day as the initial extension announcement.
Should KU be found by the NCAA to have committed an institutional violation, and that ruling results in the elimination of television appearances for either football or men’s basketball, Adidas has protection in the new contract — the company would cut by 50 percent its annual payments to the university for a football infraction and 25 percent for a violation in men’s basketball, a mechanism that would last until the programs return to TV.
KU did its “due diligence” during the negotiation process and explored “everything” on the table, Long said, including a potential jump to other apparel organizations. Asked what he’d tell Jayhawk supporters who believe, given the high-profile scandal, that KU would’ve been better off cutting ties, Long asked for faith in the university’s decision makers.
“Understandable question, but I hope those who have those questions in their mind hope that chancellor Girod and I and our staffs did a very thorough vetting of Adidas and what they were offering us,” Long said. “After extensive conversations and commitments and meetings, we arrived at the decision that this is the best partnership for Kansas Athletics and the University of Kansas going forward.
“We’re excited about this agreement. We believe it’s one that benefits both athletics and academics.”