When everyone flipped out about Isiah Thomas working for the New York Knicks as a consultant while coaching Florida International, most in the compliance industry yawned. College coaches work with professional teams all the time. Semi-pro leagues like the PDL couldn’t exist with college coaches working in the summer.
The problem, everyone said, was “conflict of interest” and “competitive advantage”. How can FIU know whether Thomas is looking out for the interests of the Golden Panthers or the Knicks when a student-athlete is deciding whether to stay or go pro? And won’t Thomas clean up on the recruiting trail by pitching prospective student-athletes on Florida International as a virtual farm team for the NBA club?
The teeth gnashing over Thomas working with a professional team was a giant overreaction considering that those two concerns, conflict of interest and competitive advantage, are much greater when you go down the chain from college, not up. And that’s allowed by one of the more curious NCAA bylaws, the local sports club rule:
Bylaw 18.104.22.168 – Local Sports Clubs.
In sports other than basketball, an institution’s coach may be involved in any capacity (e.g., as a participant, administrator or in instructional or coaching activities) in the same sport for a local sports club or organization located in the institution’s home community, provided all prospective student-athletes participating in said activities are legal residents of the area (within a 50-mile radius of the institution). In all sports, an institution’s coach may be involved in any capacity (e.g., as a participant, administrator or in instructional or coaching activities) in a sport other than the coach’s sport for a local sports club or organization located in the institution’s home community, provided all prospective student-athletes participating in said activities are legal residents of the area (within a 50-mile radius of the institution). Further, in club teams involving multiple teams or multiple sports, the 50-mile radius is applicable only to the team with which the institution’s coach is involved; however, it is not permissible for the coach to assign a prospective student-athlete who lives outside the 50-mile area to another coach of the club. A coach also may be involved in activities with individuals who are not of a prospective student-athlete age, regardless of where such individuals reside. (In women’s volleyball, see Bylaw 22.214.171.124 for regulations relating to a coach’s involvement with a local sports club and the permissible number of evaluation days.) (Revised: 1/10/90, 1/16/93, 9/6/00, 4/25/02 effective 8/1/02, 5/11/05)
So before getting worked up about a coach potentially having the interests of a professional team on their mind, realize that in many sports, coaches have the interests of their college in mind while acting as club coaches for prospects.
Once you read the first four words of Bylaw 126.96.36.199, you could probably guess the next three. But two of those are missing: “football and”. Why is this a big deal? Because while high school coaches have held the reins of power in football for quite some time, that sport is joining all the others where club coaches are at worst equals when it comes to influence over a prospect:
It’s no longer a question of if youth football will mirror youth basketball. It’s a question of when. At some point in the next few years, the experience of an elite skill position player will be almost identical to the experience of an elite point guard or power forward.
That experience could be different in one critical way under current NCAA rules. Right now, it is legal for a college coach to operate a 7-on-7 travel team as long as all the players live within 50 miles of the campus.
The implications for this are huge. Programs like the University of Southern California or the University of Miami could build virtual minor leagues of local skill players, farming the large and talent rich populations right in their backyards. And while programs in rural areas might not get the same benefit in terms of local talent, it can extend your recruiting ranks. Your graduate assistant and director of operations can’t recruit. But they can go coach prospects.
There’s a legitimate argument that the local sports club rule is outdated, harkening back to a time when high schools ruled recruiting and there weren’t enough qualified coaches in most sports. Perhaps the rule should be abolished entirely. But to prevent this exception from turning the rules on their head, football needs to join basketball as off limits.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.