Now that Penn State's shocking stream of sad news has slowed, the NCAA can turn its attention to less-depressing matters ... good, old-fashioned recruiting violations! While Jerry Sandusky's atrocities were unimaginable and led to unprecedented penalties, the NCAA can walk its well-worn path in handling the likes of, say, Central Florida.
UCF received sanctions Tuesday, added to the school's self-imposed penalties, that include a one-year postseason ban in men's basketball and football. The NCAA also slapped the school with a "lack of institutional control" charge and a $50,000 fine, all based on engaging with outside entities in luring prospective athletes.
Greg Sankey, an NCAA infractions committee member, told the Associated Press that UCF's situation was troubling because there was "knowledge of the representatives or third parties being involved in the recruiting process and [school officials] facilitated that."
If the NCAA is serious about changing the culture of big-time college sports — especially men's basketball — it can begin with the runners, street agents and various intermediaries involved at the top level of recruiting. Sorting through the bad guys and good Samaritans won't be easy, though.
"To have a chance to get a really good player, you'd better have somebody on the inside helping you," a college coach reportedly told CBSsports.com after UCF's sanctions were announced. " I'd say 99.9 percent of us [have used third-party recruiters]. How else do you get a player?"
There's no other way in many instances, especially when the recruit's father isn't in the picture. That opens the door for another male to become the recruit's influential authority figure, whether he's an AAU coach, a blood relative or a family friend. College coaches who hope to land blue-chips in those circumstances usually won't get far without an assist from the outside party.
There's nothing wrong with that, either, as long as everything is aboveboard.
If a nephew or church member was a top prospect and asked for help in the recruiting process, I would do so gladly. He likely would sign with a coach who had multiple conversations with me and maybe received my recommendation.
I doubt that was necessary for Austin Rivers, whose father probably provided all the help and more before Duke won that lottery pick. I have the same feeling about the vaunted Harrison twins, Aaron and Andrew, who are the nation's top backcourt recruits and have Maryland high on their list. They come from a two-parent household and their dad, who coaches their AAU team, is ever-present in stories about their impending decision.
Aaron Harrison Sr. could pull a Cecil Newton and solicit a six-figure signing bonus for his sons' services, but at least the NCAA addressed that loophole in January when it expanded the definition of an agent. The meaning now includes any third-party influences — including family members — who directly or indirectly market an athlete for profit.
Unfortunately, the prospect of making a profit is too hard to resist for many individuals, regardless of their field. A USA Today story this week outlined rampant problems with outside parties in college basketball. Former coach Tom Penders told the paper that an AAU coach or his agent asked for money in return for a player's commitment at least 25 times. Penders said another request was adding an AAU coach to the staff.
The NCAA won't always have cases as blatant as UCF, which worked hand-in-hand with a runner, Ken Caldwell, who worked for a sports agent. In other instances, the NCAA might have to weigh the relationship and intention of those who assist recruits.
Just because an outside party might stand to gain down the line doesn't mean that's his motivation.
"Some [AAU] coaches misuse kids trying to benefit themselves," Maryland assistant and former AAU coach Dalonte Hill said at the Terps' media day in November. "But there are a lot of good success stories where if it wasn't for an AAU coach, some of these kids wouldn't have made it, let alone stayed in college and got their degree."
Some outside parties are simply trying to ensure that a player escapes the streets, qualifies academically, develops sound character and practices good habits.
If anything, those folks should be rewarded more than schools should be punished.
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