If You Give An Athlete A Car Wash

The story of a West Coast Conference women’s golfer who committed an NCAA violation by using university water to wash her car looks like a classic case of NCAA overreach. There is a tiny monetary benefit (if any) to the athlete, based on a principle to which the NCAA already has many exceptions (athletes should not get anything not available to other students).

But consider the alternative. If we take “university water for car washes” to its logical conclusion, we get “personal valet services for athletes.” I think it is safe to say there is widespread (but not unanimous) agreement amongst the NCAA membership and even the public that interns washing and waxing athletes’ cars during practice or class should not be allowed. Nor should those interns do the athletes’ laundry, pick up their dry cleaning, or run other errands for athletes.

So if use of university water should be allowed and a personal assistant provided by the university should not, where is the line drawn? If water is ok, can athletes use university soap? If car wash soap is allowed, what about laundry soap? Is the use of laundry machines then permitted? Can the university build a car wash next to the athletic facilities for athletes to use free of charge?

These questions might sound ridiculous but they are exactly the ones that would be asked if the NCAA deregulated in this area. Some would be asked when a proposal was being developed. Some would be asked after the proposal was published. And the rest would be asked by coaches who will use any nook and cranny of NCAA rules to get an edge.

We are at the same place with the infamous bagel rule. Bagel spreads were not allowed until this past winter. But by deleting the “dry bagels only” interpretation, the NCAA has opened up uncertainty. Obviously serving surf and turf dinners which happen to be on top of a bagel is not in the sprit of the rule. But what about a bagel sandwich? Is lox a competitive equity issue?

Unless the NCAA deregulates an area completely (see for example unlimited phone calls and deregulated mailings), there will still be some amount of arbitrary line drawing. There will still be a monitoring burden. And there will still be stories about the athlete who got in trouble with the NCAA because she used university carnauba wax instead of just car wash detergent.


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