Wichita State has hired an Overland Park law firm that specializes in NCAA rules compliance to help investigate members of the school’s baseball team receiving improper clothing and apparel benefits.
WSU’s athletic department made the announcement in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.
The violations were identified by the current coaching staff and brought to the attention of the administration during the transition in coaching staffs, WSU said. Gene Stephenson was fired after 36 seasons on June 4. Arkansas assistant Todd Butler was hired June 16.
“We take this matter very seriously,” athletic director Eric Sexton said in the statement. “Our commitment to institutional integrity is unwavering and we must hold everyone associated with our athletics programs accountable for lapses in judgment. We believe this to be an isolated case limited to our baseball program. However, we will look into this exhaustively to ensure our compliance with the Missouri Valley Conference and NCAA rules.”
Stephenson did not return a message requesting comment.
News of the review came as a surprise to former Shockers Travis Banwart, Jordan Cooper, Ryan Jones and Cody Lassley, who played under Stephenson in recent seasons. They said that they were not aware of improper benefits involving clothing or athletic apparel, either from within the baseball program or from outside sources.
“Not in my time there,” Lassley said. “We would basically get the same type of clothing that other teams were wearing, no special benefits or anything of that nature. I can't think of anything that would have raised an alarm.”
Banwart, who played from 2005-07, said, “Everything was run tight. I never saw anything or experienced anything like that when I was there. Gene made us very aware of what we can and what we can't do.”
Jones said that while he was unsure of NCAA rules regarding clothing benefits, he experienced nothing that appeared to violate those rules. The former players characterized Stephenson as a coach who followed the NCAA rules and emphasized those rules in a meeting at the start of each school year. Jones and Lassley played from 2007-10.
“We really didn't get a whole lot, clothing and apparel-wise, for sure,” Jones said. “I would go on the side of we were not breaking any rules. Our coaching staff was pretty observant of the rules. They would tell us what the rules were that we had to abide by, and we had to abide by them. (Stephenson) knew exactly what rules he had to follow.”
Cooper pitched for WSU from 2009-10. He remembered the players receiving sweat suits from sponsors such as Under Armour, the type of apparel standard for many teams and schools and allowed by the NCAA.
“I can't honestly recall anything fishy that I saw going on,” he said. “Gene, he was by the book when it comes to that kind of stuff. We got the minimum.”
Todd Sullivan, student equipment manager from 2006-12, said no one from the university talked to him about the review. Sullivan was responsible for ordering and inventory of apparel and equipment. He said Stephenson kept a tight watch on those items and nothing was handed out without his approval.
“All the players were supposed to get the same thing,” Sullivan said. “If somebody lost a garment, I would have to go to Gene to ask for a replacement. If we had anything extra lying around, I would have to go to Gene and ask permssion. Gene was very stingy with handing out stuff.”
Bond, Schoeneck and King is the firm assisting WSU. Its website touts that it has conducted more than 100 investigations into potential major infractions.