In the wake of the suspensions to Peter Jurkin and Hanner Perea, people are asking the NCAA a lot of questions. One of those questions, “Did you hammer these kids because you could not prove IU did anything wrong?” will never have a satisfying answer for anyone who asks it. Another one of those questions, “How should the NCAA treat all the different people who surround recruits and provide them stuff?” is one of the most difficult facing the NCAA right now.
Once a Booster, Always a Booster
But there is one question that has a quick and easy answer. The case hinged on the fact that Mark Adams, one way or another, gave IU $185 over twenty years ago. That labeled him a “representative of Indiana’s athletics interests” or as they are more commonly called, a booster. Under current rules, Adams has to wear that scarlet “B” for life. And because he has that designation, both how the NCAA treats the benefits he provides to prospects and how IU must monitor him are different from the rest of the world.
The question of “Who should be considered a booster?” is one that Indiana AD Fred Glass brought up as an issue to be fixed going forward:
“I think the rule should change so that we have some sort of time exception,” Glass said. “… The policy makers need to make a change. I don’t want to criticize the enforcement staff because they did what they had to do. But we ought to carve out some common sense exceptions to this thing.”
There are plenty of easy ways to create exceptions and even more complicated ones. Time limits, dollar limits, complex formulas averaging donations over a period of years are all possibilities. Glass’s idea is a good one and contrary to Indiana head coach Tom Crean’s doubts, it has a good chance of happening (although when given the current state of the NCAA legislative process is unknown). But Glass should advocate the NCAA go one further and eliminate the designation of booster altogether.
Representatives of athletics interests, although foundational to NCAA recruiting and extra benefit rules, is outdated. It harkens back to an era where the people most likely to try and influence an athlete’s college decision were alumni and donors. While the biggest outstanding major infractions case (Miami) includes that behavior, more common now are cases like the one involving Southern California and Reggie Bush.
What Exactly is a Booster?
To be fair, the definition of a booster goes beyond simply donors to an athletic department. It also includes anyone the university knows or has requested to assist with recruiting or providing benefits to athletes. But the result of this expansive definition means new cases like USC are being shoehorned into the booster definition. Sherwood Blount, Rodney Guillory, and Mark Adams all fall under the same definition and set of rules, despite the behavior being much different.
And booster is just one of many designations a person could have. Mark Adams was also an “individual associated with a prospect” and a non-scholastic coach. He was also Hanner Perea’s legal guardian for a period. If he was steering athletes to a certain school for personal gain, he would be considered an agent under the new, expansive definition. All of these carry with them different rules and different penalties.
Like I said before, the fact that Adams donated money to Indiana should not control whether the benefits he provided were legal or not. A coach who provides benefits to athletes with the intent of establishing influence or control over them to steer them to a certain school should be breaking an NCAA rule regardless of where he graduated from or where he donates money.
If the booster category was eliminated, the “individual associated with a prospect” category expanded to all sports, and the agent category maintained, that is enough to craft reasonable rules. Schools should keep an eye on everyone connected to a prospect. Stiffer penalties should land on someone manipulating prospects for personal gain. And no one but the staff members of a school should recruit or steer kids to that college.
Schools should not be judged on their ability to anticipate the moves of third parties, even ones close to the school like donors. The test of monitoring and institutional control should be in the response to a violation. The booster designation may live on informally, because disassociation would likely remain a penalty when a donor or alumnus commits a violation. But it would not dictate who the school must keep an eye on or who can provide basic necessities to prospects.