Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Crossing The Line

A brief blurb from Sunday's Miami Herald is perking up ears in message board land this week.

Four months after his criticized departure from the Dolphins, Alabama coach Nick Saban received a celebrity-type reception at one school when he returned here for a recruiting trip last week. ''The faculty was excited,'' Fort Lauderdale Dillard coach Keith Franklin said. Security guards and administrators requested pictures with Saban, and he obliged. 'They said, `We love you here at Dillard,' '' Franklin said.

Kind of mildly interesting as a local-color piece, but it appears that the Herald missed the real story. The portion that's really getting attention follows (emphasis added):
Miami Northwestern defensive tackle Marcus Fortson and Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna linebacker Jordan Futch -- two of the top junior prospects in South Florida -- spoke with Saban and said he left a good impression. ''Good guy,'' Futch said.

Saban also approached Northwestern offensive lineman Brandon Washington, a UM oral commitment. 'He asked me if my heart was in Miami. I said, `No,' '' Washington said, adding there's a good chance he will sign with UM but wants to take other visits. Washington said the way Saban left the Dolphins ''bothered me'' and ''was on my mind,'' and he might not consider Alabama.

"Last week" would have been the week of May 14, which falls within the NCAA-mandated 2007 "Evaluation period" of April 15-May 31, when college coaches may evaluate potential recruits, but may not have actual contacct with those recruits. Based on this report, it appears that Alabama coach Nick "I am not going to be the Alabama coach" Saban" violated NCAA rules regarding contact with recruits on both occasions.
Evaluation - An evaluation is that period of time when it is permissible for authorized athletics department staff members to be involved in off-campus activities designed to assess the academic qualifications and playing ability of prospects. No in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts are made with prospects during an evaluation period.

Contact - A contact is any face-to-face encounter between a prospect or the prospect's parents or legal guardian and an institutional staff member or athletics representative during which any dialogue occurs in excess of an exchange of a greeting. Any such face-to-face encounter that is prearranged or that takes place on the grounds of the prospect's educational institution or at the site of organized competition or practice involving the prospect or the prospect's high school, preparatory school, two-year college or all-star team shall be considered a contact, regardless of the conversation that occ

At first glance, this looks like the kind of minor secondary violation that happens all the time, and frankly gives the NCAA's convoluted rulebook a bad name. Slap on the wrist and move on? Maybe... but maybe not. This note from Colorado's 2002 infractions case might indicate otherwise:

The report noted that the pattern of violations caused the case to rise to the "major" level. A significant number of the findings involved contact with prospects, or "bumping," during non-contact periods in the Spring when only evaluation is permitted. "When viewed separately," the committee's report said, "each of these contacts might be considered secondary; however, taken cumulatively, they reach the level of a major violation."

In testimony before the committee, representatives of the university, as well as former members of the football staff, including the former head coach, characterized the violations as "inappropriate pushing of the rules to their limits," or attempts to be inappropriately "creative." A former assistant football coach testified, "the former head coach had the attitude that he was not traveling to the high school of a prospect without encountering that prospect."

One former assistant football coach said he had "compromised" his integrity by "simply going along with the culture that was out there."

In its public report, the committee said it was taking "this opportunity to send an unequivocal message that the custom of 'bumping' prospects during non-contact periods is a violation of NCAA rules no matter how widespread the practice, and coaches who continue to do so will be held accountable for their actions."

Although the former head coach characterized the encounters as "inadvertent" since often times the high-school coach initiated them, the committee found that, "there was little indication of any attempt to discourage such contacts from occurring."

The committee report went on to say that the former head coach wanted to be seen by the prospect. "He recognized his celebrity status during visits to prospects' high schools and that his presence conveyed his special interest in the prospect," the report said.

That kind of practice does sound a bit familiar, doesn't it? As another former resident of south Florida once said, I think somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.

UPDATE: Forty-eight hours later, newspaper employees who've read blogs and message boards realize what they missed the first time. Advantage: FTB!