Monday, September 8, 2014

THE NCAA:Too Lenient or Too Meddlesome?

By now, you all have heard about Mo'ne Davis, the thirteen year old pitching wonder from the Pennsylvania Taney Dragons.  Well this time,  the World Series Little Leaguer isn't in the news for her 75 mph fast pitch. She is dominating the news cycle because Geno Auriemma, head coach of the University of Connecticut (UCONN) Women's Basketball Team, called her to wish her congratulations for her success in the Little League World Series.  What does this have to do with the price of tea in Mississippi you ask?  I'll explain after the jump.

Since her dominating performance against the boys in the Little League Baseball World Series, Mo'ne Davis has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, thrown the first pitch at a Dodger's game, and appeared as a guest at a WNBA luncheon.  She has also appeared on a number of talk shows and interviews.  In those interviews, Mo'ne made it clear that she is a better basketball player than baseball player and that she wants to play for the UCONN Women's basketball program.  You can check her out here.  Oh yeah, she's 13. And she won't enroll at UCONN for another 5 years.

In August 2014, after the Taney Dragons exited the World Series tourney, Mr. Auriemma called Mo'ne and
congratulated her on her memorable performance.  Based on that quick congratulatory call, an unknown school reported the incident.  The NCAA investigated and ruled that Auriemma and UCONN committed a secondary recruiting rule violation.  But did they get that decision right?

Now as a legal wonk, I love to read decisions and rulings.  Specifically, I look for the court or ruling body's reasoning that led to its decision.  When I found out that the NCAA ruled that UCONN had committed a secondary violation for calling Mo'ne, I jumped to find out what happened.  What I found is that the NCAA ruled incorrectly against UCONN.  Here's why.

For your convenience, here's the bylaw from the 2014-15 Division I Sports Manual:

13.1.3 - Telephone Calls Period for Telephone Calls -- Telephone calls to an individual (or his or her relatives or legal guardians) may not be made before September 1 at the beginning of his or her junior year in high school...Thereafter, an institution may make telephone calls to the prospective student-athlete at it's discretion.

Now notice that I highlighted three words in the bylaw.  The rule states that calls to an individual are prohibited prior to September first of their junior year of high school.  That language is broad and it doesn't let you know who can't be called prior to September 1.  Well if you keep reading, you'll see that the rule refers to a "prospective student-athlete."  Hmmm, now who is a prospective student-athlete?

Well, bylaw 13.02.12 defines a prospective student athlete as "a student who has started classes for the ninth grade" or any other individual "if the institution provides such an individual (or the individual's relatives or friends) any financial assistance or other benefits that the institution does not provide to prospective students generally."

Mo'ne is in the eighth grade, so the first part of the rule does not apply to her. The second part of the rule requires the institution to provide financial assistance or another benefit not provided to other prospective students.  Well we know that a congratulatory call is not a financial benefit.  But is it a benefit not provided to other prospective students?  I'm not sure how you can determine that a phone call is a benefit at all, let alone a benefit not provided to other prospective students.

Mo'ne has already become a star, Auriemma's call did nothing to add to that.  She has already been on talk shows, has met with professional baseball and basketball players, and has been heavily covered in the media.  What possible benefit could come from a college coach saying congrats?  If you said nothing, you are not the weakest link. Furthermore, assuming that a call went out to a legitimate prospective student, it would be well within the rules for the coach to call the student and offer a simple congratulations.

In short, the NCAA got their ruling wrong.  As you can see, there is no financial assistance or benefit from a congratulatory call.  And of course we don't have the details behind the ruling.  Now our staff at TUP has criticized the NCAA before and for good reason.  It appears that the NCAA is fine with making incorrect decisions.

Now, in all fairness, the NCAA did classify this as a secondary violation, and this won't hurt the 2014-15 basketball season or prevent Mo'ne from playing for UCONN.  But this ruling definitely places negative criticism on a coach and on a school in a sport so competitive that the number of scholarships can mean the difference between a winning season and a rebuilding year.  I guess I just like things done right.  And the NCAA sure didn't get it right here.

Rant over.  Now SOUND OFF!!

1.  What's your take on the NCAA's ruling against UCONN?

2.  Do you think the NCAA is too strict?  
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