At one of the nine colleges where I worked, there was a preliminary NCAA investigation into football and basketball which, not surprisingly, discovered some minor violations (for the record, the school was not Fresno State and Tark). One involving basketball was a prospect we had signed who showed up at his post season high school all-star game practice decked out from head to toe in our practice gear (reversible practice jersey, practice shorts and even a pair of our shoes while another kid who was playing on the opposing team, e.g. east-west or north-south) didn’t have anything from us. The former player was recruited by another assistant on our staff, while I had recruited the “naked” kid. In fact, not to make me sound like a goody two-shoes, but the results of the NCAA findings found no violations committed by me. In one of my previous stops, the former staff lost their jobs because they committed some (very minor) violations. (The fact they also had a losing record made it that much simpler to show them the door). Maybe I was frightened when told that story but, whatever the reason, I decided adhering to the rules was the better strategy.
Actually, when I interviewed for the job (at the school that had the all-star clothing irregularities), the athletics director warned me, “Always remember this: We’ll stand by you if you lose – a little – but we won’t stand by you if you cheat.” I had absolutely no problem with this because, call me naïve, but I felt the NCAA rules were meant to be followed since (even though from time to time they seemed petty, or even downright absurd) they were the same for everybody.
By the time of the investigation, we had a different AD. After being questioned about the infractions, he pulled me aside and said, “Jack, what do you think of the NCAA rules?” I told him I thought they ought to be followed since the NCAA was our governing body. “What about so-called ‘gray areas’?” he asked.
I told him my policy regarding gray areas was to call the NCAA enforcement staff and ask about it. I got to know the head of enforcement pretty well and when I’d ask about such a situation, he would give me one of two answers. Either: “I have no problem with that,” which meant, technically, it broke the letter of the rule but not the spirit, or “No, that’s an end run,” which meant that while it isn’t technically a violation as far as the letter of the rule, it does break the spirit of the rule and, although you skirted that one, you could be looking at the NCAA to launch a full-blown investigation – something no school ever wanted, nor could withstand.
Our new athletics department leader (who had a distinguished career in intercollegiate athletics) looked at me and said, “Jack, the way I look at the rules is those suckers should be bent as far as they will bend.” Evidently, his philosophy was, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” – a philosophy employed by many successful (and unsuccessful) coaches.
Apparently, without a memo of any sort, our department paradigm had changed. My response to him was probably not the best, considering it seemed like the guy was mentoring me:
“What happens when you’ve bent it as far as it can bend and the prospect asks for just a little more. You’ve invested so much time with the kid and you’ve established such a close relationship with him – what do you do then? It would seem to be too tempting to bend it a little more – even if it meant breaking it – and, that’s a decision I’d rather not make.”