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Why Playing Spot the Violation is a problem

Let's Take A Quiz - Phineas and Ferb Lyrics + HQ (MP3 Download) (via PhineasandFerbSongs)

Yes, let's take a quiz. Presented by Bill Lubinger of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and with a tip of the hat to Mizzou alumnus Graham Watson of Yahoo! Sports for linking to it originally. Let's look at four scenarios in this case study. For each one, I want you to determine if it is an NCAA violation or if it is something that is permissible.

Again, you only have the information laid out in each case; no additional information for the presented scenario is forthcoming:

1. A "super fan" of the local college or university team is having a dinner for one at the local sports bar. He notices that a couple of the guys from the basketball team are sitting a few tables over watching a game. The guy calls the waitress over and orders a pitcher of soda and a bucket of wings to be sent to the guys. This guy is just a "super fan"; he is not an official booster. Violation or permissible?


2. The star middle linebacker has been invited to speak at a local Pop Warner football league's year end banquet. He is not being paid for this speaking engagement. He attends and gives a rousing speech. The grateful parents who are organizing the dinner invite the linebacker to stick around for dinner. They are serving chicken, scalloped potatoes, salad and chocolate cake. Violation or permissible?


3. Before the linebacker headed off to the banquet, he stopped by the football offices to chat with his head coach. The coach suggests that the player wear a tie for this speaking engagement, reaches into his desk and pulls out a tie for the player to wear that evening. Violation or permissible?


4. The compliance office receives an anonymous call from a potential tipster. This person is calling the compliance office because they have learned that the university is paying for contact lenses and braces for student athletes. Violation or permissible?

I'll give you the answers, provided by the compliance officers at the University of Akron and at Kent State University at the end of this piece.


But let's look at the above scenarios for a second and think about this. In each of these four scenarios, something that most folks would perceive as relatively innocuous is occurring, right? Buying a round of drinks and some food for basketball players. Contact lenses and braces (while not cheap are not as expensive as a customized low rider). A catered meal as a way of saying thanks for speaking tonight. Loaning a tie to someone who forgot to put one on.

I'm not going to say that those who were in the Tat Five are blameless, or that they shouldn't have been suspended. Nor am I going to say that Jim Tressel shouldn't have "resigned." The circumstances surrounding what's going on there, or what went on at North Carolina with Marvin Austin and company last season are different, and each case should be examined in detail for what is available.

On the whole, though, I wonder if it isn't necessary to do a full examination of the rule book. It might be time for an overhaul, because, quite frankly, there's no way that the average student-athlete (or even coaches, for that matter) is going to be able to know everything that is in there.

This link will take you to the latest edition of the Division I manual. Go check it out. It's free to download (and I do every year). It's a 444 page PDF, and quite hefty if you have a paper copy (I have an old paper one from about 2005).

It is dense, it is verbose, it is not easy to read and interpret unless you spend a lot of quality time with it. I am increasingly finding it harder and harder to say that as a student-athlete you need to be familiar with the sections that apply to you and you need to know them forwards, backwards and sideways.

Yes, I know that compliance and life skills are there to help with the interpretation of rules and policy for them, and that they do educate student-athletes on the issues that are relevant to them at the beginning of the year.

But there also has to be a reason that lots of schools pile up secondary violations out the wazoo; it isn't easy to keep this crap straight.

I think that the retreat that Mark Emmert has called for August 9-10 is good on its surface, and I'll have more on it later this summer. Part of reforming intercollegiate athletics, to me, involves looking at the rule book and deciding how much of this is actually viable and realistic in the 21st century and what rules make sense.

Let's not focus solely on enforcement; let's look at holistic reform from the ground up. It's time for a new model.

Answer key:


1. Violation. The student-athletes should say "No, thank you" to the soda and wings. It would constitute an extra benefit because they would be receiving it because of their athletics status and because free wings and soda are not generally available to the public. Also, you could argue the person may not have been a booster before, but is one now. Per an NCAA bylaw, he "provided benefits to enrolled student-athletes." By triggering that status, he now retains it eternally.

2. Permissible. The student-athlete can accept actual and necessary expenses for participating. He is also allowed to receive a meal for his participation, so the cost of the meal is not an issue. Interacting with the banquet attendees would not be an issue, either, since they are not of prospect age and the player is not a coach. If the parents insist the player join them for dinner some other time outside of the banquet, he can accept an occasional meal in the parents' home. Institutional discretion sets the definition of "occasional." At Akron, for instance, the definition is once a month, on average.

3. Possible violation. A tie, or other dress clothes for that matter, could be bought by the student-athlete using the Student Athlete Fund -- a fund provided by the NCAA to help them cover the difference between their scholarship and the cost to attend school. However, institutions are not allowed to loan dress clothes. If a school requires a suit/jacket and tie, the items would have to be bought through the fund. Even if the linebacker returned the tie after the event, it could still be viewed as a violation.

4. Permissible. Those items could be considered necessary for participation. Since they are medically related, they would be permissible if the school's budget and policies allowed for them.