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How the NCAA May Approach Real Basketball Moms of Kentucky

Nate Taylor of the New York Times took a look at the lengths some parents will go in order to get their children a basketball scholarship. This article includes this bit that has downright frightened many people who follow college sports and recruiting:

Overaggressive parents hollering from the stands have become a cliché of American childhood, but these moms have turned parental cheering into an art form — and, they hope, a business. Six Kentucky families have signed a deal with NorthSouth Productions, a television company, to make a reality show about their hoops-mad families.

As the O’Bannon case drags on, any mention about the use of a student-athlete or prospect’s name or likeness raises the question of what the NCAA might do about it. The issue has come up in the last week or so when this year-old promotion by Skullcandy headphones resurfaced including current Duke basketball freshman Jabari Parker.

Compared to Divisions II and III or the NAIA, Division I has many more pre-enrollment amateurism rules. But those rules are still not as extensive as those for enrolled student-athletes. In the NCAA’s Guide to the College Bound Student-Athlete, the NCAA says these activities may be reviewed:

  1. Contracts with a professional team.
  2. Salary for participating in athletics.
  3. Prize money.
  4. Play with professionals.
  5. Tryouts, practice or competition with a professional team.
  6. Benefits from an agent or prospective agent.
  7. Agreement to be represented by an agent.
  8. Delayed initial full-time collegiate enrollment to participate in organized sports competition.
  9. Any financial assistance based on athletics skills or participation.

What is not in the list is anything about promotional activities, endorsements, or media activities. In addition, the bylaw which prohibits athletes from using their name and likeness for commercial purposes, Bylaw, starts with the phrase “After becoming a student-athlete…”. So simply appearing in a commercial production, advertisement or endorsement before enrolling in college is not likely to impact a prospect’s eligibility.

The last item in the list above would be the sticking point. It is a catch-all for any sort of pay a prospect might receive in connection with their athletics career. This comes from Bylaw 12.1.2, the basic amateur status bylaw, which lists the conditions under which an athlete loses their amateur status. Right at the top of the list is another catch-all:

(a) Uses his or her athletics skill (directly or indirectly) for pay in any form in that sport.

Bylaw and its many subsections follow that basic rule with a long list of what is considered pay and which types of pay are exempted from the general rule. In that list is the recently amended Bylaw which reads:

An individual who participates in a sport as a member of a team may receive actual and necessary expenses for competition and practice held in preparation for such competition (directly related to the competition and conducted during a continuous time period preceding the competition) from an outside sponsor (e.g., team, neighbor, business) other than an agent or a representative of an institution’s athletics interests (and, after initial full-time collegiate enrollment, other than a professional sports organization).

What that means is if the families participating in the proposed reality show were paid less than their son’s expenses related to basketball, appearing in a reality show may have no impact on their eligibility. Those expenses could be significant, as one mother in the story worked two jobs to cover the $10,000 cost of a summer basketball season. If payment for appearing on the show is more than the prospect’s expenses, that would lead to additional NCAA scrutiny and possible penalties. Even that may be justified as permissible employment though, since prospects do not have many of the same employment restrictions as student-athletes.

Beyond the amateurism issues, the show might generate other types of NCAA violations. Recruiting rules prohibit media coverage of recruiting contact and an institution is responsible for any media presence during a prospect’s visit to campus. The combination of amateurism issues and tricky recruiting regulations means the best case would be for the production company and any network involved to work with the NCAA to ensure rules are followed. The worst outcome for everyone involved would be for a show about the chase for a scholarship to render an prospect ineligible for that scholarship.

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