Behind the NCAA's new fight against package deals (cont.)
Noting that over the years there have "been numerous instances of an institution hiring either a relative or coach of a recruit at a time that was proximate to the prospect's initial enrollment," the group offered the following recommendation in its summary report: "When an institution hires an individual who has either coached or is related to a prospect who ultimately enrolls at that institution, there should be a rebuttable presumption that the hiring violates NCAA legislation. This presumption would be triggered if the individual were hired within two years, either before or after, of the prospect's initial enrollment at the institution. The burden would then be on the institution to prove to the enforcement staff that the hiring did not violate NCAA rules."
In other words, you're guilty until proven innocent.
This kind of idea might sound good when it's discussed by a bunch of hand-wringers in a hotel conference room, but in practice it would be difficult to apply. Besides the difficulty of proving intent, the proposal opens up a Pandora's box of suspected improprieties taking place in other areas of college athletics. For example, when I mentioned this proposal to Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who is a member of the NABC's board of directors, he countered by mentioning the common practice of athletic directors and university presidents using executive search firms to help them fill coaching vacancies -- after those same search firms had helped that same AD or president get their own jobs. "If we're going to pass this rule in men's college basketball," Hewitt says, "then I want [a rule] passed that when a search firm hires you, you are disqualified from using that search firm in the future. Because that's pretty prevalent right now."
Another problem facing the potential rule change is that it might violate antitrust laws. The NCAA does not have a good recent track record on this front. In 1999, the NCAA had to pay a $54 million settlement as a result of its efforts to create a "restricted earnings" position on men's basketball coaching staffs. Three years ago, the NCAA had to pay $56.5 million to settle an antitrust case brought by the NIT, which had challenged the NCAA's rule requiring teams to accept an invitation to play in the NCAA tournament. Even if a rule along the lines of what the youth basketball issues group proposed were passed by the membership, it's far from clear whether it would hold up in court.
For Hewitt, the more troubling aspect of this dialogue is that it singles out men's college basketball for extra scrutiny and punishment. "Why do we always assume that basketball coaches are the only guilty parties working in the NCAA?" he asks. "I'm not na´ve, I know there are some dirty deals, but I don't see anything wrong with a kid wanting to be around somebody who he's known a long time and makes him feel safe. It's called mentorship."
In the end, there's only so much the NCAA can do to prevent these package deals from happening. "This all boils down to one thing: ethics," says Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who is also on the NABC's board of directors. "Obviously there are things done in every business that are unethical, but can you really legislate that? The bottom line is, this is a very competitive business."
And given the way business is conducted in college basketball these days, it's hard to argue Scott Drew hasn't just made one very shrewd move.