NCAA Rules Confuse a Top NCAA PR Guy

T
he NCAA Manual, all 400-plus pages, strives to create a level playing field for college athletics and preserve the principle of “amateurism,” whatever those lofty concepts really mean. Unfortunately, many NCAA rules are absurd, which is something even NCAA president Mark Emmert acknowledges. Change is coming. In fact, the NCAA recently announced that it would eliminate limits on phone calls, texts, emails and social media to recruits. (A little too late for good guy Kelvin Sampson.)

This, we’re told, will reduce the NCAA Manual by a whooping 25 pages. Hey, it’s a start.

Maybe one day NCAA rules will make sense. But, there will be areas open to interpretation—and to exploitation. And there will be NCAA staffers there to attempt to justify bizarre or unfair rules.

The latest example is over gifts sent by pop star Justin Bieber to Olympic gold-winning swimmer Missy Franklin, who plans to attend Cal in the Fall and swim under the NCAA banner.

One problem: Franklin was advised that accepting gifts from Bieber would constitute an NCAA violation based on rules which prohibit athletes from receiving “extra benefits” based on their athletic notoriety.

Franklin gets this care package from Bieber, but she’s concerned that accepting these gifts might impact her NCAA eligibility. So she returns everything.

End of the story? No, the NCAA wants the world to know that it would have been okay for Franklin to accept Bieber’s gifts.

Ronnie Ramos, NCAA head of digital, tweeted: “NCAA on Bieber gifts: We applaud Missy Franklin’s commitment to amateurism, but #Bieber Fever is allowed under NCAA rules.”

Most people don’t associate NCAA rules with humor, but that was a nice attempt, although it only added to the confusion many of us have over NCAA rules.

After Ramos tweeted the NCAA’s interpretation, Sporting News senior basketball writer Mike DeCourcy began a dialog.

Mike DeCourcy (tweeting @RonnieRamos): “Cute, but seems a double standard. OJ Mayo getting game tickets from Carmelo ruled a violation. Would it be still?”

What follows is a great example of NCAA dysfunction. In tweets. Plus, I add my own comments.

Ronnie Ramos (@RonnieRamos): “point is Bieber routinely gives gifts to fans. Extra benefit rule applies if someone gets something cuz they are student-athlete.”

Mike DeCourcy (@TSNMike): “Don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to suggest Carmelo routinely gives away comp tickets.”

Marc Isenberg (@MarcIsenberg): But OJ Mayo and Carmelo Anthony play basketball, so something must be sinister.

Ronnie Ramos: “i believe tix to pro games falls under a different bylaw.”

Ronnie Ramos: “SA can’t accept free tix unless such services also are available to the student body in general.”

Marc Isenberg: If someone from the “student body” has a friend in the NBA, he would probably get free tickets too. The reality is D-I players all have friends who play in the NBA. If the NCAA enforced this rule, we’d probably have to shut down college basketball for a few weeks.

Ronnie Ramos: “FWIW, did a quick online search and did not see any reports of Carmelo routinely giving tix away pre 2008, when Mayo got tix.”

Mike DeCourcy: “Because it wouldn’t be news. Players have friends in the cities where they play, they give them tix. In every pro sport.”

Marc Isenberg: I guarantee Ramos that Carmelo and every other NBA player provides free tickets to youth groups too.

Ronnie Ramos: “that would be an extra benefit because they are student athletes, not just fans; that is difference in Bieber case.”

Mike DeCourcy: “You don’t think a college basketball player can be a fan of NBA basketball?”

Ronnie Ramos: “of course. point was the extra benefit rule and who has access to that benefit.”

Mike DeCourcy: “but isn’t it reasonable to assume b-ball people meet b-ball people, just as Olympic heroes get asked about favorite singers?”

To Ramos’s credit, he eventually stopped trying to B.S. his way through the argument and conceded: “NCAA has room to improve. Hope upcoming rule changes makes things better.”

Instead of defending the NCAA’s insane rules to the bitter end, as many before him have done, Ramos just threw in the towel.

I get that the NCAA wants to be more forthcoming and transparent. And that should be applauded. But tweeting interpretations of NCAA bylaws can be a slippery slope and, as DeCourcy illustrates, counterproductive.

The bottom line: if it’s within NCAA rules for a pop star to send gifts to a swimmer, then it should be okay for an NBA player to give tickets to an NBA game to a student-athlete. Meanwhile, can Ramos or someone from the NCAA provide the correct interpretation? Or, is Ramos just another one of those “pseudos [who] won’t correct their errors”?

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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.