The University of Kansas athletic department has paid thousands of dollars in legal fees per month for more than two years while defending its storied men's basketball program against allegations of serious NCAA violations.
NPR flagship KCUR in Kansas City, Mo., obtained the legal bills from December 2017 through April 2020 using the Kansas Open Records Act. Most are from Bond, Schoeneck & King in Overland Park, Kansas. But KU also hired the prestigious Pillsbury law firm with offices in New York and Washington, D.C. By April, KU Athletics had paid the firms more than $1.25 million combined, KCUR discovered.
None of that is tax money. All of it comes from athletics' department funds.
The bills from the two firms started coming weeks after a top executive from Adidas was federally indicted in New York in September 2017. The indictment of James Gatto led to a high profile trial that unmasked the troubling relationship between shoe companies such as Adidas and high-profile basketball programs like the one in Lawrence.
According to the NCAA, KU coach Bill Self and his assistant, Kurtis Townsend, “embraced, welcomed and encouraged” Adidas employees and consultants to influence high-profile basketball recruits to sign with the Jayhawks.
As the NCAA investigation ramped up, the KU legal bills got bigger. In July 2017, the university hired Pillsbury to work on the infractions investigation. The violations became public in September of that year, and Pillsbury billed KU $177,696 that month alone, including $10,273 for travel.
In total, Pillsbury has billed KU $355,524. Bond, Schoeneck & King in Overland Park has cost KU Athletics $770,155.
"Generally speaking, legal fees are an expected and necessary cost of doing business for a major athletics department," KU associate athletics director for public relations Dan Beckler said in the statement sent to KCUR. "As we have said since the beginning, we are fully committed to contesting these allegations and have hired additional outside legal counsel to assist these efforts."
The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP), a five-person independent resolution panel, will make the decision about violations. Once penalties are handed down, they cannot be appealed.