NCAA needs to get better at this, and fast

  • 11/30/2010 11:48 pm in

It really isn’t fair.

These words aren’t meant to sound petulant. They aren’t meant to sound like whining.

They might sound trite, but I can’t really help that. The definition of the word “trite,” according to Merriam Webster online, reads “hackneyed or boring from much use; not fresh or original.”

We’re talking about the NCAA. Forgive me if I’ve run out of new ways to say it.

My good friend Hugh Kellenberger (actually he’s a good friend of Inside the Hall at large, but I have met his child, so I choose to be even more personally friendly) wrote tonight that “honesty has no place in college athletics,” and in many ways he’s right. I agree with the parallels between Cam Newton and Josh Selby in comparison to Guy-Marc Michel, and the discernible and condemnable differences between the way each case has been handled.

But I’ll argue on a slightly tangential tack. What concerns me in Michel’s case isn’t so much the NCAA’s disregard for honesty as opposed to attempts at attrition (Newton) or contrition (Selby). What concerns me in Michel’s case is that, when it comes to foreign players trying to come to America to play college basketball, there does not exist an adequate framework for helping these kids do things the right way.

Let’s be clear: From the very beginning, Guy-Marc Michel did his damnedest to play within the rules. He signed what should amount to an amateur contract. He worked to better himself through the only means available to him at the time. He tried to go to school, as novel a concept as that sounds.

For his trouble — and five games played with a “professional” outfit in France — Michel will never get to play Division One basketball in America.

It’s not so much the NCAA’s ruling I’m disputing — as best I can tell, and as best as I’m told from people who understand this case far better than me, it’s probably the right reading of the relevant bylaws and precedent.

But as has been illustrated not just by Michel but by Enes Kanter and our old friend Moses Abraham, there isn’t nearly enough guidance available to a kid living in France or Turkey or Nigeria to help them understand the dos and don’ts of the NCAA rulebook.

It’s easier for the NCAA to evaluate Selby’s case, or Newton’s, and it’s easier for the defending parties to put forth a clear and convincing response. The system under which both sides are working is familiar, almost old-hat, to them.

But how is Moses Abraham honestly supposed to know that he’s not allowed to let someone buy him an airline ticket to America? Why should we expect Enes Kanter or his family to be intimately familiar with the exact ways in which he can receive compensation while playing with professionals? And how in the world can we fault Guy-Marc Michel for simply trying to go to school while also bettering himself as a basketball player in the only way he really could?

The answer to every one of those questions is we can’t. It’s quite possible that, in at least one of those cases, the athlete involved at least had a vague notion that what they were doing was wrong. But what happened with Michel illustrates that there is, if nothing else, a significant disconnect between the rulebook and the players themselves.

The release Indiana put out cited “significant delays while dealing with French authorities.” Combine that with the drawn-out Kanter saga, and I can easily paint you a picture of the kinds of problems one would expect when trying to build cooperative relationships over the breadth of an ocean; I’m not questioning that.

But the NCAA — and perhaps the college athletics establishment in general, institutions included — needs to make the entire process, from start to finish, more clear and available to players living overseas, in all countries, so that they can ensure they operate within the letter of the law.

If we can’t do that, if we can’t do a better job of eliminating that handicap for all athletes, in all sports, then we’re frankly just wasting their time.

And like the decision to rule Michel ineligible, that, too, is patently unfair.

Filed to:

  • Anonymous

    The NCAA had done a poor job adjusting to the globalization of basketball across the world. Athletes from Europe, Africa, & South America have increased tremendously over time. This wasn’t the case in the past, at least to the extent it is now. Overall, it’s a problem the NCAA has in adapting to change in general as evidenced by problems associated with facebook, text messages, and recruiting. The organization needs to be more proactive, not reactive.

  • so international club competition is bad, but shady as all get out AAU teams are ok. Yes this makes complete sense.

  • One point I want to make as someone who deals with this issue is a simple fact of recruiting that makes this so difficult: international recruiting is often late recruiting.How often do you hear about an American high school student simply failing to get the grades or courses to be an academic qualifier at the last minute? Almost never. And much of the reason for that is starting in his sophomore or junior year, a college coach has been recruiting him, checking his academics and trying to make sure he qualifies.That rarely happens in international recruiting. International recruiting often heats up when domestic recruiting does not provide the quality of prospects a coach is looking for. Most of it is during the senior year, when much of what might harm a prospect’s eligibility has already occurred. And as we see, what constitutes a “senior year” for a prospect might be unclear. So a lot of times, the damage is done by the time “the NCAA” even knows a prospect exists.And as an employee of an NCAA member institution, don’t separate us from “the NCAA”. The members tell the NCAA what to do. The members hear the appeals, set the guidelines, and propose the legislation. There is no “establishment” and the NCAA operating independently of that. It’s all tied in together. And if any process is going to get better, it will be through the joint efforts of the NCAA staff and the membership.

  • HoosierFromCT

    Just curious, is there such thing as an ineligible athlete that’s not a football or basketball player?

  • Zach Osterman

    Absolutely, CT. It probably happens any number of ways, but technically anyone can run afoul of NCAA bylaws pertinent to their sport. I think you see it most often in things like basketball and football because it’s so hotly contested and heavily covered, but there are presumably eligibility issues in every sport.

  • Anonymous

    It would seem to me that the IU compliance office should have investigated all the issues that might have come into play with a foreign player or any player or transfer for that matter. That is what they get paid to do isn’t it? IU could easily have headed this off long ago. With our recent history of transgressions we must conduct thorough and proper monitoring. I do not understand how they could have made this mistake.

  • Do you remember the state of IU basketball this summer? Crean & Co. were desperate enough to take a chance on this kid — and rightly so — because we needed somebody and nobody else was going to walk through that door. And there was no way Bawa was going to be ready to have an impact this year.

  • Zach,

    If you hired Bruce Weber to do a podcast reading of this post, then it would sound like whining. Great post.

  • Anonymous

    Seems to me like the IU staff knew of these facts and was hoping the NCAA would look at the spirit of the rule but instead ruled on the letter of the rule. I’m sure they knew his qualification wasn’t certain but what was the risk? We still had an open scholarship this year and had one open next year when he committed. Plus he’d be off the books in 2012 when Indiana’s loaded class would be ready to start college. It’s not like we missed out on someone. It’s not like the university or coaching staff cheated or violated any rules. They took a gambled and lost. Time to focus on Boston College.

  • Alright IU fans. Let’s create our own college basketball association that allows Guy-Marc to play under our rules. NGMMA. National Guy-Marc Michel Association.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the NCAA should establish an “International Compliance” desk. Then kids could fax or email their documents in BEFORE signing them to get the compliance review upfront. The same should be true for domestic compliance questions. However, if this pre-review existed, THEN, no Selby could “return” the $5,000 and claim “no foul”. He would be ineligible forever for cheating or for hiding the facts!

  • Anonymous

    JUCO is only 2 years. He had used up his eligibility there too. Now he maybe could have played D2 or D3 without being investigated, but not JUCO.

  • Anonymous

    JUCO is only 2 years. He had used up his eligibility there too. Now he maybe could have played D2 or D3 without being investigated, but not JUCO.

  • RobD

    I don’t know that I agree with you, Zach. The basketball program is (mostly) funded by the university which is funded by the American (federal and state) taxpayer. It sounds like you’re advocating the NCAA becoming the NBA, when it comes to foreign athletes.

    Is the NCAA supposed to become a worldwide regulatory body, a sprawling bureaucracy providing sets of rules to all possible foreign players, so that they can micromanage their lives according to the NCAA’s rules, just to preserve their chance to play a kids’ game in the United States? The purpose of these kinds of rules is not to punish the overseas kids, but to give coaches and programs a set of rules they should look at to apply to determine whether to recruit a foreign player.

    The blame for this fiasco rests with IU–the regulatory compliance department in particular. The NCAA makes the rules to govern the programs–not to open up NCAA basketball to the entire globe.

  • RobD

    It happens in track and cross country a fair amount. Lots of African distance runners (and Brits) face these problems, too.

  • Foulouttwice

    So the fox is guarding the hen house. There should be 3rd party arbitration. Why do you think there is such a disparity in resolutions? The NCAA is like Congress…seems there is a need for their existence, but nobody trusts them.

  • Anonymous

    Of course, that would apply to anything you hire Bruce Weber to read.

  • Anonymous

    The risk was that if he had played in games they would have been forfeited. How do you know IU did not miss out on someone? Perhaps another recruit for 2011? IU could not be certain that they would be so fortunate with the 2012 class when they recruited Guy. They certainly wasted time that could have been spent elsewhere. IU cannot afford to take ANY chances because of our recent mistakes. If they did know the facts they certainly should have known when he graduated from HS. Even without the suspension for playing on a professional squad, he would only have had one year of eligibility I believe. In my opinion IU could have avoided this if the compliance officers were doing their job properly. In my opinion we should not take risks on any player whether it is grades, attitude, transfer status, or recruiting tactics. We do not need to with the wealth of home grown talent. Crean has such an advantage. He can see his recruits by driving almost any night of the week. Many coaches must fly hundreds of miles to stay in contact.

  • Anonymous

    No matter how desperate IU was, and I am not so sure that was the case, we must be much more diligent than other schools. Guy was a project at best. One of the problems that led to the Samson fiasco was a lack of proper oversight and compliance by IU. Fortunately it appears no more damage has been done except for the personal damage to Guy. I feel very badly for this young man. Perhaps there is there a D league team he could play for while he finishes his degree?

  • Zach Osterman

    First of all: The basketball program is funded by the athletics department, which is entirely self-funded through donations, revenue built from advertising, ticket sales and merchandising, and a host of smaller sources.

    Second: What I’m advocating is a greater — or at least more accessible — NCAA presence in the lives of student-athletes playing overseas. We like to think of both our sports and our schools as some of the best in the world, and we pat ourselves on the back for giving kids the “opportunity” to come take advantage of both of those. But those same athletes are at an automatic disadvantage. It’s much harder for them to figure out how to live by NCAA bylaws, because the nature of educational and athletic support systems overseas often require some sort of analysis or adaptation, because they are so different.

    The NCAA can’t, won’t and shouldn’t govern sports overseas. But it can be more helpful and more accessible to international student-athletes that want to come play for one of its member institutions, thereby fulfilling one of its core missions: serving student-athletes.

    Also, NCAA rules govern both programs and athletes. There are entire sections of NCAA bylaws directed specifically toward athletes, outlining what they can and cannot do. Some of those bylaws even apply to international athletes, but again, there is a disconnect. Even if language barriers can be overcome, legalese read through and documents sorted as needed, cases are almost always specific to the athlete in question, and therefore further guidance is needed.

    I’m not saying it’s the NCAA’s job to do Indiana’s job. I’m just saying the NCAA could be better at doing what is its job.

  • Zach Osterman

    To be perfectly honest, most authorities overseas have little interest in educating athletes about the NCAA or its bylaws. I can’t speak as specifically to national federations, but club teams in particular have little desire to lose the players they value to the NCAA, meaning that even if they understand the rules, they won’t always make a point of helping the player or players in questions stay within the limits of them.

    Take Kanter’s situation: One of his greatest opponents, frankly, was the general manager of the Turkish team for which he played. That GM could have had a tangible motive in making sure Kanter wasn’t eligible — if Kanter left Fenerbahce, the Turkish team, for Kentucky and then went into the NBA, Fenerbahce was not eligible for any sort of compensation. But if Kanter left the club straight for the NBA, then the team might be in line for some sort of compensation.

    The GM (his name was Nedim Karakas) in question denied that such an outcome was his interest or that Fenerbahce would seek a transfer fee for Kanter in any applicable situation, and perhaps he’s telling the truth. But assuming that a) the authority figures under which these players are working overseas know and thoroughly understand NCAA rules, b) they are making sure their players stay within the boundaries of those rules and c) these clubs always have the best interests of such players in mind is dangerous. Club teams that send players the the NCAA have something to lose, if nothing else than a player, presumably a promising one.

  • Did you ever watch Guy play? He was not a project — not even close.

    And Guy’s ineligibility has nothing to do with IU… this is not excessive phone calls or free plane tickets or setting him up with an agent. I’m not saying IU shouldn’t have any oversight, I’m simply saying I don’t think signing Guy was some sort of program-shattering risk. We didn’t do anything wrong. He’s ineligible. End of story.

  • Anonymous

    Yes I have watched him play. And you do not know how he would have performed in the Big Ten. He never played a game against Div. I competition. Good grief! I am not even sure what your point is. Who said his ineligibility was IU’s fault? Who is comparing this to an plane tickets, agents, or phone calls? Who said it was a program shattering risk? You are the only one to use those terms. The risk, it would appear, was that any games he played in could have been forfeited. His recruitment was a waste of time and effort though, similar to the conversation I am having with you, and the situation easily could have been avoided by due diligence. I see you boast a Purdue Phd? Can you get your money back? I believe our business is now concluded.

  • Crean, his staff, and our players all said Guy was the best low post presence in practice; how would he have not had an impact during Big10 play? I’m not saying he would’ve put up double doubles (I highly doubt it), but if, as you assert, the kid was “a project,” then shouldn’t you be worried that “a project” was so dominant in practice?

    Don’t panic, man. I’ll loan you a paper bag, just breathe.

  • Just a suggestion: take it easy next time. I never insulted your intelligence or your profession (or anything about you for that matter).

  • Anonymous

    My memory isn’t the best, but i’m fairly certain McClain had sniffed out Guy before accepting the Assistant Coaching position at IU. And Guy was in the fold shortly after his hire. So, i’m not completely sold on your notion that we “wasted” time recruiting GMM. And i have to admit to my low expectations of Guy over the summer, but at HH i was completely sold on his NOT being a project. He’s comfortable (read: not clumsy) running the floor and seemed to know where to be defensively. I don’t think you’re being fair to GMM’s current level of abilities or his potential to learn when you dismiss him as a factor b/c he hasn’t played any D1 ball yet. Lebron never played D1 either. Don’t blow your top over that..i’m not comparing their abilities – simply pointing out that D1 competition isn’t the yardstick we should use here.

    Yes, perhaps someone in Compliance could have dug deeper into his amateur status and timeline of his “collegiate” start – but from what i’ve read, it seems those two things were pretty difficult to outline in black and white. Maybe a good legal team could fight this to argue “spirit” of the rule over “letter” of the rule (i don’t think they’d win, but we should try to do what’s right for others’ future benefit).

    Bottom line is he can’t play for IU and that’s unfortunate for us fans (of IUBB and GMM), but hopefully the time in Blgtn isn’t a total bust for him personally – maybe something good will come to him because of his IU connections now.

    Respectfully Submitted,
    the IUgnome