Undercover NCAA Operations Are a Terrible Idea

Eric Prisbell of USA Today had a tweet with this “innovative” idea from former Houston head coach Tom Penders:


This is a terrible idea for at least two reasons.

Most obviously, the NCAA is in the middle of a scandal which has exposed the fact that its investigative authority is murky, inconsistent, and under considerable question. Before the NCAA embarks on some major undercover operation against AAU coaches, it needs to revamp and reengineer its existing enforcement team and methods. Only then, and only with protections beyond what the NCAA might add in response to the Miami investigation scandal, should undercover work be allowed.

But more importantly, finding out what the price for a player is from AAU coaches is not critical information. The NCAA’s success last year obtaining a smoking gun email shows that the Basketball Focus Group is getting fairly good at connecting the dots between agent, runner, AAU coach, and player. These relationships are being mapped, tracked, and investigated by the national office.

The better tactic, from a deterrent standpoint, would be for the NCAA to have an undercover AAU coach, complete with a team of players good enough to pay for. Knowing what college coaches are up to is more important and the bigger gap in knowledge. Knowing, for instance, how an AAU coach gets offered a job on a college staff, or the methods college coaches might use to funnel money and communicate with an individual who can deliver a player would be a gold mine for the enforcement staff.

But that would be an even bigger challenge from the standpoint of providing due process and protecting the accused. It would essentially be a sting operation designed to entrap college coaches, probably ending a few careers. For anyone to accept that as something the NCAA should be allowed to do, especially in light of the NCAA’s recent enforcement missteps, procedural safeguards would need to be up to or beyond what exists in even criminal courts.