Posted September 20, 2013

Seton Hall’s capture of Isaiah Whitehead once again exposes NCAA silliness

Big East
(Gregory Payan/AP Photo)

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard appears to have cut a deal that includes the future hiring of top-20 prospect Isaiah Whitehead’s high school coach. (Gregory Payan/AP Photo)

There are a few things that need to be stated up front concerning top-20 prospect Isaiah Whitehead’s decision to play for Seton Hall next fall:

1. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard did exactly what he should have done to land a local product like Whitehead by cutting what appears to be a deal involving the future hiring of Whitehead’s high school coach, Tiny Morton. Willard has struggled so far at Seton Hall, lost some talent from the current roster, and needed something like this to help build momentum for the program going into the new Big East.

2. Willard has already done similar deals this summer, and there is a long line of coaches — many of them much more famous than Willard (or even Willard’s dad, Ralph) — that locked up prized talent with similar two-for-ones. Danny Manning (by Larry Brown), Mario Chalmers (by Bill Self) and Dajuan Wagner (by John Calipari) stand out prominently. There are many, many others.

3. According to the way the NCAA enforces these situations, Willard didn’t break any rules. This is all perfectly on the up-and-up.

It’s the last one of those three with which I have a major problem.

The NCAA makes a substantial fuss every year trying to ensure that players do not receive what’s referred to as “extra benefits” due to their status as prospective or current athletes. The gamut of these cases runs from the apparently legitimate (Josh Selby) to the patently absurd (Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea), but the NCAA is fairly consistent in at least feigning interest in enforcing the rules on the books. An athlete or his related parties can’t glean extra compensation off the back of that athlete.

In related news, here is the NCAA’s definition of an Individual Associated With a Prospect (“IAWP”):

The definition of an IAWP is any person who maintains (or directs others to maintain) contact with a men’s basketball prospective student-athlete, the prospective student-athlete’s relatives or legal guardians, or coaches at any point during the prospective student-athlete’s participation in men’s basketball, and whose contact is directly or indirectly related to the prospective student-athlete’s:

a. Athletic skills and abilities; or
b. Recruitment by or enrollment in an NCAA institution.

This definition includes, but is not limited to, parents, legal guardians, handlers, personal trainers and coaches of men’s
basketball prospects. An individual who meets the definition of an individual associated with a prospect retains that status during the enrollment of that prospect at that institution.

And here is Bylaw 11.4.1.1, which explains the rule about hiring coaches under that IAWP rule:

Contract for Future Employment.
An institution is permitted to enter into a contractual agreement with a high school, preparatory school or two-year college coach for an employment opportunity that begins with the next academic year, provided the employment contract with the member institution is not contingent upon the enrollment of a prospective student-athlete and the coach does not begin any coaching duties (e.g., recruiting, selection of coaching staff) for the member institution while remaining associated with the high school, preparatory school or two-year college.

So, this doesn’t just stand for what Willard reportedly pulled Thursday, but for what every coach who cuts a deal like this does: The NCAA is basically saying that there is no connection between these coaches being hired as assistants at the same school at which their star recruit is enrolling. Seriously.

Even when stuff like this comes out:

St. John’s was the other school in the mix for Whitehead, and his decision apparently wasn’t finalized (if you believe the breathless reporting from plugged-in local sources) until right before the announcement. You connect the dots. It certainly appears, if my industry colleagues working for New York-area papers and websites were reporting the truth, that Morton was shopping for the best deal. And, of course, his leverage had nothing at all to do with Whitehead’s forthcoming decision, right? Right?? Bwahahahahaha.

This is stupid.

The NCAA has consistently shown that it either has no interest in enforcing this rule on its books, or has no ability to do so. The bylaw is worded just loosely enough to create plausible deniability and enable all of these types of shenanigans to go on, which engenders the simple question: Why have it at all?

A few years back, Tiny Morton could have been hired for any bogus job in an athletic department. Now the NCAA at least forces a coach to burn a spot on his bench to land a prospect. Still, it basically laughs in the face of any kind of legislation against extra benefits for those associated with a student-athlete.

If Morton is so qualified, there are 350 other programs at which he could potentially be hired, and dozens that would pay as much or more as he’s going to be getting from Seton Hall starting next year (assuming the deal is consummated and the Pirates can juggle their staff around to accommodate all of the recent, umm, hires). Why not get a job first and then start delivering prospects for the program?

If the issue is that the NCAA wants to avoid possible employment lawsuits as it restricts people from taking certain jobs, fine. I’m not an employment lawyer, so I don’t know what the potential exposure would be. Then just get rid of the rule. You can’t enforce it. You don’t want to enforce it. You just seem to want it sitting there so it looks like you’re trying to do something that you’re never doing.

Stop the silliness. Either enforce the rule as it was designed to be enforced, or remove it. Running inconsistent charades is what gets people the angriest about the overlords of college athletics, and this is another case where that perception certainly meets reality.

6 comments
dexrmerritt
dexrmerritt

the door swings both ways do you want a kid who can't make the right decision or the coach KW who is playing dumb as a box of rocks or better yet TM who is laughin' all the way to the banks..lets face it they all have zero in the ethics column   

personalitynumber2
personalitynumber2

NCAA doesn't really need to make this a point of emphasis because it's getting harder and harder to "buy" a great commitment just by hiring an AAU or HS coach. More top kids are playing for multiple AAU teams in the same season and switching high schools once or twice- the loyalty to one coach isn't there anymore. Colleges won't trade a coaching spot just for a better shot at a four star kid. 

Fact is, Whitehead and Morton could have done much better than Seton Hall if they were willing to wait a few months to see where other pieces landed.  

Hubert2
Hubert2

I am confused by your stance Andy. Are you suggesting that your beef here is with the NCAA for not enforcing a rule you don't really agree with? Or are you upset that the rule is in place at all?

In either case, I feel that your take is representative of many others out there who agree with you. I do not.

Despite your excellent point about the NCAA and it's ridiculous rules and inconsistent enforcement of them [captain obvious], this isn't about that at all. 

What is it about?

You started this article with "Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard did exactly what he should have done to land a local product like Whitehead by cutting what appears to be a deal..."

There's your problem.

The fact that you believe that it is incumbent upon a college coach to take these sorts of actions in order to survive his job, as well as a AAU/Prep School coach using a kid to advance his own cause is exactly what the problem is.

While I understand the coaching business is treacherous [I am a 20 year veteran coach], actions such as these demean both the coaching profession as well as detrimental to the young people we serve. Our jobs are not simply to win games or develop winning programs. Our first obligation as adults in a position of both power and influence over young impressionable minds is first to do what is in the best interests of those very same kids, and not to do so with the priority of our own advancement in mind.

While this kind of action may be "legal" and commonplace, it does not make it ethical in any sense. From the standpoint of the College program and coach, their actions speak volumes to the length they will go in order to USE an athlete for their own purposes. It provides leverage for any future recruit to push for staff hires and allows players in those programs too much influence and control within that team to the detriment of other players. That AAU coach has no loyalty toward Willard and can only cause issue with the very player they brought in if there is ever a point to which that player feels contradicted by Willard. Willard made a deal with the devil and those deals never pan out. It taints the program for good. This tells recruits that you can be bought. It tells the other teammates that all of the principals being taught do not really matter and that leveraging your own agenda is what you should be doing.

From the perspective of the AAU/Prep coach, this kind of action is short-sighted. What does it say when you get hired solely for the purpose of bringing in a recruit. There is certainly no weight put toward anything else you bring to the table and no respect or loyalty built from it. As soon as your player is gone, so might you be. Then what? But from a bigger picture, what are you telling young people about yourself when you leverage advancement on the back of one of your players? Every time you give encouragement, provide advice, or give instruction are you really doing this to help the player or help yourself? Is pushing players to take dubious action something you are proud of? Is this what you got into coaching for?

The bottom line here is that these actions are completely unethical, regardless of how "legal" they may be. While everybody may do it, that does not mean it should be done. If you have a child playing for an AAU coach, would you want that coach manipulating your kid in order to gain some personal advantage? Would you want your kid to play for a college coach that essentially bribed someone close to your kid in order to manipulate their decisions? Are those the actions of people you even want around your child? What kind of person do you want to raise your child to be? 

Unfortunately, most people don't ask, or even consider those questions when raising their children. Most parents perpetuate the "better get mine" attitude and see advancement as a reward for this ill-conceived behavior. At some point we simply need to make a decision about how we want to be as a society.

My suggestion would be to have a rule that clearly states that anyone who is or has coached or been associated in any way with a potential player [or players] cannot be offered or take any employment with the team in which that player attends or plays basketball for the entire period of that players career. That means if you coach multiple D1 players, you cannot take a job with any program where any of those players end up until they have left the program. Additionally, any subsequent players that were coached by that coach, or were part of any program in which that coach was involved, cannot attend or play for the school where that coach is employed for a period of 4 years subsequent to the employment at the college. That means any player that is part of that program within 4 years of that coach leaving to take a job in college, cannot sign with that college, even if that player had never been coached specifically by that coach. This solved the problem in its entirety. No coach is going to be given a job in exchange for delivering, or promising to deliver, players to that program because no players from the places that coach had influence would be allowed to follow. The 4 years after the fact puts enough distance between the coach and the HS program to make sure that there is little incentive to make the hire.

tudors1
tudors1

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AndyGlockner
AndyGlockner moderator

@Hubert2 The practice should be banned, imo, but there may be employment law implications that the NCAA simply doesn't care to deal with. I agree with your general points.

noitallman
noitallman

@AndyGlockner @Hubert2The only issue in employment law is whether there is restraint of trade or discrimination of a protected class. In this case, there is no discrimination of a protected class, nor would there be restraint of trade being that the individual may seek and obtain employment with other member institutions within that field of trade. Furthermore, the government holds employment criteria similar to these types of criteria when hiring for many types of jobs. 

I believe the point I was making, was that the statement you made - "Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard did exactly what he should have done to land a local product like Whitehead by cutting what appears to be a deal..." needed to be rethought. In that one sentence, you are not only advocating for the practice, but almost making it a requirement. I am at odds with that and confused as to how you can agree with me and believe the practice should be banned, yet make that comment.