The college basketball season began for real last night. While I might be missing a team or two, the following squads had one or more players suspended for its opening game, and possibly more, (although not all due to breaking NCAA rules): Missouri & St. Mary’s (coaches), Minnesota, Oregon, Nebraska, St. John’s, Rutgers, Louisville, Fresno State (exhibition games) and Colgate. Colgate!?!
It seems one of their players played in a church league game. Nathan Harries, returning from a Mormon mission, actually played in three (3) summer league games. His crime? The league was not sanctioned by the NCAA. His punishment? Forfeiting one season of basketball! The NCAA, college basketball’s governing body, determined that because Nathan Harries played three games in an unsanctioned league, he shouldn’t be allowed to play for the entire year.
Many college hoops fans know my last basketball boss, Jerry Tarkanian, had his issues with the NCAA. It started out when Tark was at Long Beach State and the Long Beach Press-Telegram asked him to write a column. He wrote one about how unfair the NCAA was and the quote that made him famous was, “The NCAA is so upset with the all rules Kentucky is breaking that they put Cleveland State on two more years probation.” Yeah, it’s believable that would upset them - especially back in those days when Executive Director Walter Byers was more a czar than a director.
Back to the Harries case. If Colgate knew he was going to be a member of this year’s team, their coaching staff or compliance director should have made him aware of the rules regarding summer league play. I doubt he knew because if he did, and he still played, he’d be an idiot - and they don’t let idiots into Colgate. In order to shed some light on a subject few people know - including the most rabid of fans - let me relate a personal story about NCAA sanctioned summer leagues.
In the mid ’80s I was an assistant basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. We had just signed a big man (6′11″) out of Knoxville who was extremely talented but, still, a young guy we knew would benefit from the experience of playing against other bigger, older college players. Like many high school big guys, he seldom got to match up against anyone his size. It was then we were confronted with a major problem - the NCAA rule was a player could participate in a summer league that was within either 150 miles of his hometown or 150 miles of his college. In our guy’s case, the two options were the same - and there was no summer league within 150 miles of Knoxville.
It was time to get proactive. I took it upon myself to see if we could start a summer league in Knoxville. Finding eight businesses to put up money ($500 per, if memory serves me correctly) to sponsor the eight-team league with the funds to be used for uniforms (with each of the businesses name on them), referees, scorekeepers & timers, trophies and custodians to set up and clean up the facility (which I also had to locate) wasn’t that difficult. It was also necessary to solicit a local high school/junior college referee to make sure there were officials at each game because college coaches were not allowed to attend these games. Then, I got in touch with the NCAA summer league division to understand exactly what needed to be done to get a summer league sanctioned in Knoxville. It got done - not because of any creative thinking on my part, but because it’s not that hard!
There are certain stipulations to be met. One is that there is to be no more than one player (with eligibility remaining) from each college on a team, i.e. only eight players from any one college are allowed in the league AND each player with eligibility remaining can play in only one league. That’s pretty much it.
The reason for those, and all the other, NCAA rules is to allow everybody to compete on a level playing field. While it’s an admirable goal, there were two flaws in it I used to constantly tell the people I knew from the NCAA:
“1) You can’t legislate equality and 2) you can’t legislate morality.”
P.S. The rumor of a kinder, gentler NCAA might just be true as they’ve reversed their decision on Nathan Harries and are allowing him to play. Maybe someone told them that giving Harries six times the punishment they gave Johnny Manziel was a little over the top.