NCAA Breaks Rules Trying to Enforce Its Rules

UPDATE: The NCAA announced today that Shabazz Muhammad is now eligible. He has been docked 10 percent of the season (three games), which he already served, and must repay $1,600 in “impermissible benefits.”

The NCAA likes to talk about preserving the integrity of intercollegiate athletics. It is one of its primary missions, after all.

Let’s look the case of Shabazz Muhammad, one of the top NBA prospects who is attempting to play at UCLA this season. He is just the latest instance of the NCAA trampling over the rights of college athletes.

There are three main problems with the way the NCAA has handled Shabazz’s case.

Confidentiality is a one-way street

In order to carry out this mission, the NCAA operates under the cooperative principle, which “imposes an affirmative obligation on NCAA member institutions (and their representatives) to assist the NCAA enforcement staff in developing full information about potential violations.” Translated into plain English: The NCAA may not have subpoena power, but it expects coaches, administrators and players to cooperate. This makes sense. Otherwise, cheaters could cheat without even the indignity of having to lie to the NCAA.

The NCAA has been stonewalling Shabazz for months, placing blame on Shabazz and his family for not being forthcoming with requested documentation.

Just hours before UCLA opened its 2012-13 season and also the highly-anticipated New Pauley Pavilion, the NCAA announced Shabazz’ eligibility issues had not be resolved and, therefore, he would be ineligible…indefinitely.

In order to make it seem like it was doing everything possible to help Shabazz gain his eligibility, the NCAA issued a press release.

“The university and the NCAA enforcement staff agreed on the set of facts in the case, which led to the determination that a violation occurred.”

Wait a second, the NCAA’s own website states under the “Cooperation Principle” that the NCAA “requires that all individuals who are subject to NCAA rules protect the integrity of an investigation and maintain confidentiality throughout the process.”

Like a lot of things, the NCAA stumbles when it comes to walking the talk. The NCAA expects confidentiality from its subjects; of course, they do not provide the same in return.

Misaligned interests

If you ever want proof that the interests of an institution and an athlete are misaligned, here it is. UCLA desperately wants Shabazz to be eligible, no question, and is doing whatever it can to make that happen. However, the accused party is Shabazz Muhammad. Shabazz and his representatives might not agree that NCAA violation, in fact, took place. But, under NCAA rules, Shabazz Muhammad’s side of the story does not matter, nor are he and his representatives afforded the opportunity to mount a direct defense.

In this parlor game, UCLA concedes Shabazz broke NCAA rules without Shabazz’s consent. UCLA then hopes that by cooperating, the NCAA will go easy when it comes to punishing Shabazz.

The NCAA continues to badger Shabazz and his parents with loaded questions, that are difficult to answer, especially if NCAA officials have already pre-judged the case.

The NCAA wants the public to believe it bent over backwards to expedite the investigation. From the same NCAA press release:

“In the case of Muhammad, the NCAA staff requested specific documents on July 31 to assist in the evaluation of Muhammad’s eligibility. However, the NCAA enforcement staff did not receive the majority of the requested documents for review until September 25, followed by more information on October 10, and the staff was granted access to additional critical information on November 1.”

So it is Muhammad’s fault because his family has not provided detailed financial records dating back two years?

The NCAA has done this before. But it usually doesn’t happen with such bright lights shining on them. Here we had the opening of New Pauley and Flea performing the National Anthem wearing a Free Shabazz Muhammad tshirt. And at UCLA’s next game, three current UCLA players wore #FreeShabazz shirts during warm-ups. We also have a public that is increasingly tired of the NCAA’s antics. The NCAA is charged with carrying out the business of college athletics, but when an NCAA investigator allegedly blabs to her boyfriend about Shabazz’s eligibility, you wonder, can we really trust the NCAA to uphold the integrity of alleged NCAA wrongdoing?

Fighting the NCAA is an almost never-win proposition

Think about the resources that have been drained trying to figure out the appropriate punishment for Shabazz Muhammad allegedly accepting two trips to schools he did not end up signing with. Is it worth it? Do the virtues of NCAA athletics really hinge on whether he unknowingly accepted this benefit when he was 16 years old?

What happens when an NCAA staffer behaves badly? It’s not like there is an “internal affairs” division at the NCAA to report wrongdoing. No, you just have to take the NCAA at their word that they are virtually perfect when it comes to enforcement. Or have to have deep pockets to sue.

In 2003, the NCAA questioned then-Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel. NCAA investigators started by asking him about recruiting, then turned its questioning to alleged participation in a NCAA tournament pool. Neuheisel was fired. One problem: NCAA rules required investigators to disclose the nature of the interview, which they failed to do. In other words, the NCAA, in trying to enforce its rules, used tactics that were against NCAA rules. The NCAA settled the case with Neuheisel for $4.5 million.

The same irony is at play in Shabazz Muhammad’s case: The NCAA wants to enforce its rules, which is absolutely fine. But why should Shabazz be held to a higher standard than NCAA staffers whose job it is to know NCAA rules, yet still break them?


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Marc Isenberg

Marc Isenberg

Nationally-recognized athlete advocate for high school, college and pro athletes. A national columnist for Basketball Times, Marc is a frequent speaker at elite basketball camps and athletic programs and teams, including UCLA, RbkU and the Orlando Magic. In 2012, Marc, with Nolan Smith of the Portland Trail Blazers, founded Hoops Family , an organization devoted to educating and mentoring basketball players—and advocating on their behalf.
Marc Isenberg

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