Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard appears to have cut a deal that includes the future hiring of top-20 prospect Isaiah Whitehead's high school coach. (Gregory Payan/AP Photo)
There are a few things that need to be stated up front concerning top-20 prospect Isaiah Whitehead's decision to play for Seton Hall next fall:
1. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard did exactly what he should have done to land a local product like Whitehead by cutting what appears to be a deal involving the future hiring of Whitehead's high school coach, Tiny Morton. Willard has struggled so far at Seton Hall, lost some talent from the current roster, and needed something like this to help build momentum for the program going into the new Big East.
2. Willard has already done similar deals this summer, and there is a long line of coaches -- many of them much more famous than Willard (or even Willard's dad, Ralph) -- that locked up prized talent with similar two-for-ones. Danny Manning (by Larry Brown), Mario Chalmers (by Bill Self) and Dajuan Wagner (by John Calipari) stand out prominently. There are many, many others.
3. According to the way the NCAA enforces these situations, Willard didn't break any rules. This is all perfectly on the up-and-up.
It's the last one of those three with which I have a major problem.
The NCAA makes a substantial fuss every year trying to ensure that players do not receive what's referred to as "extra benefits" due to their status as prospective or current athletes. The gamut of these cases runs from the apparently legitimate (Josh Selby) to the patently absurd (Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea), but the NCAA is fairly consistent in at least feigning interest in enforcing the rules on the books. An athlete or his related parties can't glean extra compensation off the back of that athlete.
In related news, here is the NCAA's definition of an Individual Associated With a Prospect ("IAWP"):
The definition of an IAWP is any person who maintains (or directs others to maintain) contact with a men’s basketball prospective student-athlete, the prospective student-athlete's relatives or legal guardians, or coaches at any point during the prospective student-athlete's participation in men’s basketball, and whose contact is directly or indirectly related to the prospective student-athlete's:
a. Athletic skills and abilities; or
b. Recruitment by or enrollment in an NCAA institution.
This definition includes, but is not limited to, parents, legal guardians, handlers, personal trainers and coaches of men’s
basketball prospects. An individual who meets the definition of an individual associated with a prospect retains that status during the enrollment of that prospect at that institution.
And here is Bylaw 126.96.36.199, which explains the rule about hiring coaches under that IAWP rule:
Contract for Future Employment.
An institution is permitted to enter into a contractual agreement with a high school, preparatory school or two-year college coach for an employment opportunity that begins with the next academic year, provided the employment contract with the member institution is not contingent upon the enrollment of a prospective student-athlete and the coach does not begin any coaching duties (e.g., recruiting, selection of coaching staff) for the member institution while remaining associated with the high school, preparatory school or two-year college.
So, this doesn't just stand for what Willard reportedly pulled Thursday, but for what every coach who cuts a deal like this does: The NCAA is basically saying that there is no connection between these coaches being hired as assistants at the same school at which their star recruit is enrolling. Seriously.
Even when stuff like this comes out:
St. John's was the other school in the mix for Whitehead, and his decision apparently wasn't finalized (if you believe the breathless reporting from plugged-in local sources) until right before the announcement. You connect the dots. It certainly appears, if my industry colleagues working for New York-area papers and websites were reporting the truth, that Morton was shopping for the best deal. And, of course, his leverage had nothing at all to do with Whitehead's forthcoming decision, right? Right?? Bwahahahahaha.
This is stupid.
The NCAA has consistently shown that it either has no interest in enforcing this rule on its books, or has no ability to do so. The bylaw is worded just loosely enough to create plausible deniability and enable all of these types of shenanigans to go on, which engenders the simple question: Why have it at all?
A few years back, Tiny Morton could have been hired for any bogus job in an athletic department. Now the NCAA at least forces a coach to burn a spot on his bench to land a prospect. Still, it basically laughs in the face of any kind of legislation against extra benefits for those associated with a student-athlete.
If Morton is so qualified, there are 350 other programs at which he could potentially be hired, and dozens that would pay as much or more as he's going to be getting from Seton Hall starting next year (assuming the deal is consummated and the Pirates can juggle their staff around to accommodate all of the recent, umm, hires). Why not get a job first and then start delivering prospects for the program?
If the issue is that the NCAA wants to avoid possible employment lawsuits as it restricts people from taking certain jobs, fine. I'm not an employment lawyer, so I don't know what the potential exposure would be. Then just get rid of the rule. You can't enforce it. You don't want to enforce it. You just seem to want it sitting there so it looks like you're trying to do something that you're never doing.
Stop the silliness. Either enforce the rule as it was designed to be enforced, or remove it. Running inconsistent charades is what gets people the angriest about the overlords of college athletics, and this is another case where that perception certainly meets reality.