The media and fans have criticized the NCAA for years for the sheer ridiculousness of some of its rules and how it applies those rules. While everyone is aware of the NCAA’s decisions on players reportedly receiving payments before school like Enes Kanter orJosh Selby, and while in school like O.J. Mayo or Reggie Bush, there are also grey areas such as when recruits come as part of a package deal like that in which Michael Beasley was reportedly involved. Much has been made of the NCAA’s perceived uneven application of those rules and the glacial pace at which they have enforced them. The latest application of those rules that led Duquesne‘s men’s basketball program to report itself to the NCAA, however, should make even the NCAA’s staunchest defender cringe.
So what exactly did Duquesne do that led it to turn itself into the NCAA? Donate shoes to American soldiers, according to Duquesne. Ok, maybe it is a little more complex than that. Technically, they donated shoes to a foundation run by Bob Starkman, the coach at Broward Community College, who then sent them to US troops in Afghanistan. So even though the shoes were sent to the US troops because they were sent to Starkman, a junior college coach, they were interpreted as a gift to Starkman, which would be a secondary NCAA violation. Here is the official statement from Duquesne via athletic director Greg Amodio:
In an attempt to support our troops in Afghanistan through a program conducted by Bob Starkmann [sic], head basketball coach at Broward CC, the Duquesne University men’s basketball staff inadvertently violated an NCAA bylaw that prevents Division I institutions from sending athletic apparel/equipment directly to a junior-college coaching staff. Therefore, the Duquesne University athletic department has submitted a letter to the NCAA outlining the circumstances associated with this secondary violation.
Seems like a straightforward case of the NCAA being ridiculously anal, right? It turns out the case might not be that simple.
Enter the spurned student-manager. According to a report from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a former student-manager who was involved in the shipment of those shoes claims the shipment may not have been intended for American soldiers. According to the student-manager — who left the team earlier this month — head coach Ron Everhart instructed him to send the following items to Starkman:
- 2 pairs of size-15 shoes
- 4 pairs of size-14 shoes
- 2 pairs of size-13 shoes
- 3 pairs of size-12 shoes
- 2 pairs of size-11 shoes
- 2 pairs of size-10 shoes
- Coaches’ shirts
Later, another text message reportedly for Starkman was forwarded to the student-manager stating: “size 10 shoes and some coaches shirts XXL size 14 and coaches cargo shorts size 40 thks bob.” According to the student-manager, the team couldn’t fulfill those requests with their current inventory, so he requested more shoes from Adidas, but did not ask for more coaches’ shirts because he felt that he could not get them. When the shoes arrived, he shipped them to Starkman, paying $358.34 out-of-pocket per request of Everhart. When he went to Everhart for reimbursement he reported that he was sent to a string of people before going to Rick Christensen, the associate athletic director for NCAA compliance, who wanted to have a meeting the next day. At that meeting on November 8th, Christensen recorded their conversation, but stated that the basketball program had not been made aware of the discussion. On November 12th Christensen stated he would inform the basketball coaching staff of their discussion. When the student manager returned to basketball practice after the weekend, he claimed that he met with a cold reception, and left the team after receiving a check from Everhart and being advised by Christensen that it would be best to leave the team, which the student manager did. Nobody at Duquesne would respond to questions, but when the Post-Gazette reached Starkman he stated that the shoes were not intended for his players as they wear Nike, not Adidas. Starkman’s Facebook page for the cause, however, has pictures that show some of his players wearing Adidas shoes as does the team’s official page. It is possible that the players were just absent-minded or were trying to make a statement, although I doubt any of them had a situation like Marcus Jordan did at UCF. To be fair, it should be noted that there are pictures of the soldiers wearing Broward College apparel, which shows this isn’t a pure scam on Starkman’s part.
So where does this leave us? While it is clear that the NCAA’s rule could be viewed as unreasonable if one is to believe the story released by Duquesne, the story offered by the student-manager also shows us how programs could use loopholes to direct gifts to certain individuals with the intent of driving players to those programs. It is likely that we will never know what really happened, but this case illustrates some of the inherent difficulties in trusting what schools say about their self-reported violations.