NCAA rule on transferring student contact is unintelligible

Published on: February 29, 2012 | Written by: Clay Travis

Vanderbilt University is presently conducting an investigation in to whether or not coach James Franklin may have tampered with Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien. The Terps signal caller, who has expressed a desire to be granted his release to Vanderbilt, would be eligible to play in 2012 and was recruited to Maryland by then offensive coordinator Franklin. New coach Randy Edsall and Maryland granted O'Brien's release to Vanderbilt recently, but also filed a formal complaint accusing Vandy of tampering with its player. The practical impact of that complaint could be the same as not granting the release.

Why?

Because the NCAA rules on "tampering" are so confusing and contradictory it's impossible to know whether or not a violation has occurred.

In fact, it's probable that every single transfer in America has been tampered with under the NCAA rulebook.

Don't believe me?

Let's go to the rule.

13.1.1.3 Four-Year College Prospective Student-Athletes.

"An athletics staff member or other representative of the institution’s athletics interests shall not make contact with the student-athlete of another NCAA or NAIA four-year collegiate institution, directly or indirectly, without first obtaining the written permission of the first institution’s athletics director (or an athletics administrator designated by the athletics director) to do so, regardless of who makes the initial contact. If permission is not granted, the second institution shall not encourage the transfer and the institution shall not provide athletically related financial assistance to the student-athlete until the student-athlete has attended the second institution for one academic year. If permission is granted to contact the student-athlete, all applicable NCAA recruiting rules apply. If an institution receives a written request from a student-athlete to permit another institution to contact the student-athlete about transferring, the institution shall grant or deny the request within seven business days (see Bylaw 13.02.1) of receipt of the request. If the institution fails to respond to the student-athlete’s written request within seven business days, permission shall be granted by default and the institution shall provide written permission to the student-athlete."

Let's think about this rule for a moment.

What Maryland is alleging is that Franklin had impermissible contact with its player. But Franklin has acknowledged having conversations with his former players. In fact, Franklin stated on our 3HL radio show that he tries to maintain contact with as many of his former players as he possibly can. That contact isn't impermissible.

"I don't like innuendos and comments being made about tampering and things like that," Franklin said on 3HL.

“You guys know me," he said, "I’m the type of guy, I’m going to have relationships with my players. I hope to have relationships with the guys that play for me for the rest of my life.

“But the fact that people would make accusations that we tampered or did this or did that, again, I’m just going to defend our program and defend our character and how we do things. But I think it’s ridiculous to think that I’m not going to have relationships with these kids after I leave places.”

“When I left K. State for Maryland I talked to Josh Freeman every week,” Franklin said. “I still talk to Josh. Josh flew in for my 40th birthday party. I’m the type of guy, I’m going to have relationships with my players.”

Isn't that what we want from a head coach? That if he's pledged to care about a player and develops a multi-year relationship with a player and the family during recruiting that he'll continue a relationship with that player going forward no matter where he is?

If a coach moves on to a new school is that relationship supposed to be immediately severed?

That's what Maryland believes by making this complaint.

Now, let's look at the NCAA rule, particularly the emboldened portions of the rule which, if read expansively as Maryland wishes, are incredibly troubling.

What does "make contact" mean and when does a continuing contact with a player turn into tampering related to a transfer? And what does "shall not encourage the transfer" even mean?

Is receiving a phone call wishing you a happy birthday "mak(ing) contact?' Is receiving a text, voicemail or Facebook messsage "mak(ing) contact?" Is returning that phone call, text or Facebook message "mak(ing) contact?"

Is shooting a text to a former player congratulating him on a performance or telling him to hang in there after a bad performance "mak(ing) contact?"

No coach can really be upset with a former coach having a relationship with a former player, right?

Every single coach in America does this.

Similarly, how can Maryland, which is accepting transfers from New Mexico right now, have an issue with players transferring to play with a former coach?

This happens all the time.

You think it's a coincidence that player's end up playing for former coaches?

This is a relationship business and players usually go where they have the best relationships.

I think you're already seeing the difficulties in enforcing this NCAA rule before we even finish the first sentence. It's impossible not to tamper unless you receive written permission before "mak(ing contact." But then even if you don't have permission you're just instructed to "not encourage the transfer." So can you actually make contact as long as you don't encourage the transfer? Which part of this rule governs, the first or second?

Furthermore, what does "not encourage the transfer" even mean? So can you actually talk with the player as long as you don't encourage the transfer? Who is the judge of transfer encouragement? Is that a special NCAA position? Do you need a sports psychology degree? 

Effectively, if this rule is enforced broadly as Maryland wishes, what the NCAA has done is retroactively prohibit all contact between a player and a former coach if that player ever decides to transfer.

That can't be the NCAA intent, right?

Yet that is what Maryland is alleging, that Franklin's relationship with his former player is tampering. Even if that relationship predates any decision to transfer, which it clearly does.  

Think about how ridiculous this is for a minute. 

Maryland got raked over the coals for refusing to release Danny O'Brien to Vanderbilt, a school that isn't on the schedule and isn't in the same conference. Yet no one has called out Maryland for publicly releasing him to Vanderbilt while alleging a tampering violation at the same time. What Maryland is trying to do is fool the fans and media. The Terrapins haven't really released O'Brien to Vanderbilt at all. In fact, they've done something worse, they've alleged an NCAA violation.

Instead of freeing O'Brien Maryland has actually placed greater restrictions upon his movement.

And no one has called the school on the duplicity.

Will Vanderbilt still admit O'Brien?

The school has found no evidence of tampering, yet it's nervous about this poorly worded rule. It feels confident that nothing improper occurred, but is one transfer worth Maryland taking the complaint to the NCAA? Especially when you have no idea how the NCAA will apply the rule? 

Let's go back to the rule anew. The NCAA specifies that contact is made "regardless of who makes the initial contact."

So if a player calls the coach can't answer his phone? He can't read a text message?

Isn't that what we rip coaches for, only caring the next job and themselves? Tossing aside all relationships when arriving at new institutions?

Effectively what Maryland wants here is for it to be impermissible for any coach leaving a school to have a relationship with any former player. (Unless that player wants to transfer to Maryland to play for a former coach). Because as soon as that player decides to transfer all of these prior contacts become impermissible.

That's a ludricous position.

But it's one that could have merit under the existing NCAA rule.

I'd like to say I'm amazed at the stupidity of the NCAA rule, but...yeah... that's par for the NCAA course. As predicable as Randy Edsall being a jerk and playing the fans and media for fools.

Maryland issued a public press release that claimed they were freeing Danny O'Brien because it was the right thing to do.

The reality is they actually tightened his handcuffs.