Two of Indiana’s freshman men’s basketball players, Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin, were suspended for nine games because of impermissible benefits provided by Mark Adams, who operates both A-HOPE, a foundation which brings basketball players over from Africa, and the Indiana Elite AAU team. The benefits would have been permissible but for Adam’s status as an Indiana booster, which rests on a slender reed:
In short, that case involves the provision of what would generally have been permissible expenses but for the provider’s donation of $185 to the IU Varsity Club between 1986 and 1992, rendering him forever a “booster” under NCAA rules, notwithstanding that the donations were minimal in nature and occurred over 20 years ago.
The reaction to the NCAA’s ruling, which has been almost universally negative, is based on the idea that benefits Adams provided should not become impermissible just because he donated a little bit of money a long time ago. But the flip side is also true. Had Adams or any other youth coach/international education foundation head not donated the money, allowing him to provide whatever benefits he wants and potentially steer kids to certain colleges is also not a good result.
The Perea and Jurkin cases illustrate why the third-party problem is virtually intractable for the NCAA. On the one hand, it is a real issue where people are establishing influence over prospects by worming their way into the prospects’ lives. On the other hand, in some cases they are the only ones providing basic essentials or educational opportunities for the athletes.
The challenge is to create a rule that does a decent enough job of distinguishing between the good people and the bad. But booster status, especially as it is currently defined, does little to help us separate the two.