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NCAA Needs to Pick a Side With the IAWP Hires

After Isaiah Whitehead committed to Seton Hall amid reports that the Pirates had agreed to hire his high school coach Tiny Morton, Andy Glockner took a look at what Whitehead’s commitment said about NCAA rules regarding the hiring of a prospect’s coaches or family members. Glockner focused on the NCAA’s general rule, Bylaw, which talks about contracts for future employment of high school, prep and junior college coaches. Many of the issues raised by Glockner are valid, including the plausible deniability aspect. But this issue was supposed to have been solved in men’s basketball with Bylaw 11.4.2:

In men’s basketball, during a two-year period before a prospective student-athlete’s anticipated enrollment and a two-year period after the prospective student-athlete’s actual enrollment, an institution shall not employ (or enter into a contract for future employment with) an individual associated with the prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position or in a strength and conditioning staff position.

Proposal 2009–99, which created Bylaw 11.4.2, even addresses the enforcement challenges with Bylaw in the rationale:

As a result, short of direct testimony indicating that the employment was tied to the recruitment of a specific prospective student-athlete, the current legislation is very difficult to enforce.

That would require either an institution dumb enough to put the contingency in the contract or a witness willing to get himself blackballed by the college coaching community for ratting out the university.

The fatal flaw in Bylaw 11.4.2 is that it is restricted to noncoaching positions. The rationale was that the lack of a limit on the number of these positions in a basketball program lead to the abuse. Positions could be created out of thin air. It was also widely assumed at the time that a head coach would not be willing to give up one of his three precious assistant positions.

Bylaw 11.4.2 was supposed to solve the enforcement problems with by simply prohibiting schools from hiring individuals associated with a prospect (expanding it from scholastic coaches). But Bylaw 11.4.2 has failed because the assumption that it was not necessary for coaching positions is clearly flawed. And there is no way the NCAA could argue that it is happy with universities “only” being able to hire three people to land basketball recruits.

Glockner suggests enforcing and strengthening Bylaw but it is too outdated. The old rule is not designed for the realities of modern recruiting, especially in men’s basketball. Bylaw should be dumped in favor of beefing up and expanding Bylaw 11.4.2 with the following changes:

  • Expand the rule to all sports; and
  • Include coaching positions.

If hiring a prospect’s coach or family member should not be allowed in men’s basketball, why should it be permitted in football? Or women’s basketball? Or field hockey? In the nonrevenue sports, these package deals could be even more attractive since there are fewer opportunities for an individual associated with a prospect to profit off the athlete.

Including coaching positions does raise the likelihood of a lawsuit. But Bylaw 11.4.2 does not ban an institution from hiring an individual associated with a prospect. It prohibits the university from hiring that individual and getting the recruit(s). Including coaching positions would make it harder for high school and club coaches to break into the college ranks, but not impossible, just like Bylaw 11.4.2 does now.

Avoiding a lawsuit is also not sufficient justification for not having a rule or having a less useful rule. If the NCAA made rules first and foremost to avoid lawsuits, it would have no academic, amateurism, or financial aid rules. A good test for whether a rule is important enough to make it into the NCAA Manual is whether the NCAA is willing to defend it in court. Preventing universities from funneling money to people associated with prospects through sham or real jobs meets that test.

A much worse solution but one that might give the NCAA some flexibility would be to dump Bylaws and 11.4.2 and use the agent legislation instead. Under the new definition of an agent (a.k.a. the “Cam Newton Rule”), a person is deemed an agent if he or she:

Seeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment at an educational institution or from a student-athlete’s potential earnings as a professional athlete.

Another bit of NCAA legislation, Bylaw 11.1.4, would need to be tweaked since it is not technically impermissible to employ an agent. The language of Bylaw 11.1.4 focuses on the traditional activities of an agent or runner. The rule would need to be updated to rope in individuals who are deemed agents under the new expansive definition.

This approach still has enforcement challenges, but the broader definition means a lower bar for proof than showing that employment was contingent on the enrollment of a certain prospect. Testimony from rival coaches and the athlete would be more useful in showing that the individual sought a benefit or financial gain from any institution, not just the one where he was eventually employed and the athlete eventually signed.

I agree with Glockner that something needs to be done. The NCAA has two rules currently on the books that are intended to stop package deals involving recruits and the people surrounding them, but neither seems to be working. Either this issue is important enough to have a strong rule that may be attacked in the courts or it is not important enough for the NCAA to be involved in at all. And if this is deemed not a big enough issue for the NCAA to be involved in, it raises the question of what else is not worth the NCAA regulating.


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