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.

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