Because a former DePaul Blue Demons associate head coach helped a then-high school prospect become eligible for college, the program is facing some heat. Last week, DePaul found itself placed on probation for three years. Head coach Dave Leitao didn’t leave this debacle unscathed, either, as he is suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season.
Read the lede again, because it is important. An emphasis on academics put an entire program in hot water.
In short, the player did graduate high school but failed to meet NCAA eligibility standards. To help the prospect become eligible, the aforementioned former associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with the player, monitoring his progress while he attempted to become eligible.
The NCAA, in its own release, makes it clear no one did the coursework for the prospect, though still considered the act an impressible benefit. The writing of the statement felt off as well, going as far to point out how the person monitoring the athlete ensured steps were taken so he took tests on time, limiting extracurricular actives in the process. How that objectively good practice in tutoring made its way into a statement of DePaul’s wrongdoing is confusing.
This is where it begins to get tricky. Much of this isn’t on the NCAA, although many’s natural instinct will be to yell about fictional ideals and troublesome labor practices.
Did the DePaul assistant, and those around him, do this out of altruism? Of course not. The player brought value to the program. Obviously, the former coach would never go out of his way to ensure a 24 percent shooter from the floor made it to DePaul.
Still, in the grand scheme of life, it’s an overall good situation when the player eventually became eligible to both play for DePaul and continue his educational track at a respected university.
While the ends might not justify the means strictly from an NCAA bylaws point of view, the governing body of college sports forever touts the importance of academics for its student-athletes… just not here, apparently.
Admittedly, it is murkier than that naive outlook. As someone who prefers to blindly give the benefit of the doubt to players, and even some schools in situations similar to this, the NCAA’s statement says the people involved knew the transpiring violations were wrong in real-time. Moreover, an unintended way to keep in contact with a recruit outside of proper windows, regardless if the player is already committed or not.
Iffy and complicated and various other nefariously inclined connotative words. Nevertheless, it still feels morally off.
Leitao is guilty for not creating an environment where those on his staff would confess to him their in-progress works of cheating.
As we all know, those who are willing to color outside the lines, while looking for competitive advantages, love to tell on themselves, likely at the expense of their own careers.
“The membership requires proactive engagement from head coaches as leaders of programs,” the committee said in its decision. “The head coach created an environment where staff members did not report violations or consult with the compliance staff but chose to remain silent. The head coach simply did not ensure a compliant program.”
The statement never makes it clear if Dave Leitao knew of the violations as they were happening, but given his light three-game suspension, it is safe to presume the NCAA didn’t believe he did. Given that context, it remains odd the NCAA expects “cheating coaches” to admit their violations to their boss — inevitably resulting in the “cheating” coach losing his career.
To be fair to the NCAA, however, they tinkered with safeguards for years, especially to prevent those who prefer to rely on ignorance to what’s happening around them to avoid any forms of sanctioning.
Viewing this strictly through the lens of semantics, the governing body did what it needed to do; DePaul technically violated rules and those violations must come with repercussions. If one were to take issue, though, it has less to do with the NCAA’s decision than it does by creating bylaws allowing for no wiggle room for common sense.
As Andy Schwarz, a respected economist, and someone who has gone to battle with the NCAA in court, noted:
The "impermissible benefits" here were essentially the same academic coach I hired for one of my kids in middle school: "monitored the recruit’s progress, limited his extracurricular activities and ensured tests were taken."
WHY would anyone see this as bad? https://t.co/Vemta7CaTk
— Andy Schwarz (@andyhre) July 23, 2019
Schwarz is now coming at this from a biased angle, as he is one of the key behind-the-scenes figures for the NCAA pay-for-play alternative the HBL, but his sentiment isn’t so far removed from reality it should go without noticing.
Plenty of potential college students, specifically those who come from a background of privilege, are afforded similar luxuries. Without consequence, they’re allowed tutoring to become eligible to attend their dream college. Not exactly an apples to apples comparison; though it’s far better than pretending a student-athlete who brings inherent value to a college should be held to a higher standard than a rich person who only brings the ability to pay tuition.
Without putting a blanket statement on the entire NCAA construct, the umbrella organization has often faced criticism for using its labor force in ways that prevent those without power from obtaining any, usually for the sake of members’ pocketbooks, in the name of amateurism — which is an ideal supposedly meant to value education over athletics.
What happened to DePaul is the opposite. The Blue Demons certainly carried out a recruitment process meant to benefit their athletics, but — intentionally or not — actually put academics on a higher pedestal first. It had to. Otherwise, the athletic aspect wouldn’t be obtainable.
For their efforts, an already ho-hum Big East cellar-dweller is facing probation and a head coach likely already on the hot-seat is now under an even more watchful eye.
There’s no simple, truly easy fix to how the NCAA should handle a situation like this. At least not with the way their bylaws are currently constructed. Allowing for wiggle room, on a case-by-case basis might be the only solution available to it.
Then again, that would be a tremendous amount of work. The governing body already does a poor job with programs only traversing five miles per hour over the speed limit. Expecting those in charge to have the capability to not punish merely in the name of whatever they deem righteous is probably asking too much.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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