NCAA Rules: Rumble at Rupp Moved, Outrage at the NCAA Ensues

Tied to the whippin' post again.

So we had yet another tempest in a teapot yesterday when the so-called "Rumble at Rupp," a high school event that features several schools with highly ranked players, among them Findlay Prep of Las Vegas that features UK 2012 recruit Anthony Bennett, has been moved from Rupp Arena to Lexington Catholic's Christian Academy arena due to a decision made Wednesday.  Here's KSR's article, which brought my attention to the matter, and the comments from Bleid Sports' (the event sponsor) CEO Bob Blair (hat tip:  Wild Weasel):

"I regret to inform you that the NCAA has enforced a new rule (enforced on Wednesday, November 23 at 10:05 pm), that prohibits non-scholastic events from playing on a collegiate campus or main practice/playing facility.

Bleid Sports had maintained on two separate occasions official approval to host these events at collegiate arena (i.e. Rupp Arena). Rupp Arena’s attorney also received approval to have these scholastic events at Rupp Arena. Rupp Arena has signed contracts with Bleid Sports, and the deposits for the building have been paid.

We have fought and will continue to fight the NCAA on this matter. Our lawyer, a man accustomed to fighting the NCAA and winning, will bring some justice on the NCAA.

However, this does nothing but hurt our schools all around the country playing in collegiate facilities. The NCAA is unjust in cancelling an event 36 hours prior (especially over the Thanksgiving holiday). I hate that the schools, the programs; those are the bodies affected.

Tates Creek girls’ coach Justin Cheatham, whose team was scheduled to play in Rupp on Sunday, said in an email that his "players, as well as countless others across the state, are broken-hearted by the NCAA stepping in at this last minute and stomping on the dreams of kids all across this and neighboring states."

Rupp Arena is the center of the basketball universe, and to tell these student-athletes just one day before tip-off of the first game that they won’t be able to play speaks strongly to the diminished character of the NCAA."

So is this yet another Great Evil perpetrated on us by NCAA storm troopers and their leader, Darth Beelzebub Emmert?  Read on.

First of all, let's remember who the NCAA is.  It is a voluntary association of all member colleges, and all rules have to be approved by the collective vote of the members.  Those rules are then administered and enforced by the bureaucracy in Indianapolis.

The rule in question is this one from the NCAA Division I Manual, 2011-12, and it is a new rule this year:

13.11.1.8 Nonscholastic Practice or Competition—Men’s Basketball. An institution [including any institutional department (e.g., athletics, recreational/intramural)] shall not host, sponsor or conduct a nonscholastic basketball practice or competition in which men’s basketball prospective student-athletes (see Bylaw 13.11.1.2) participate on its campus or at an off-campus facility regularly used by the institution for practice and/or competition by any of the institution’s sport programs. (Adopted: 4/28/11; a contract signed before 10/29/09 may be honored) [my emphasis]

Okay, let's take a look at this.  First of all, this rule is not aimed at high schools but institutions.  The rationale for this rule is apparently to prevent institutions from using events like the "Rumble at Rupp" to gain a recruiting advantage, which is facially reasonable.

Note here is that for this activity to be forbidden, the school itself (in this case, the University of Kentucky), must "...host, sponsor, or conduct..." the event.  The rule does not forbid a high school or Rupp Arena from entering into a contract to do anything, so the missive from Blair is not only misleading, it is intentionally misleading.  Blair would have you believe that the NCAA is moving outside its authority and creating rules for high school as well as college sports.   That is not the case.

Without knowing the details, which will surely not be forthcoming from Blair, UK, or the NCAA, I will speculate as to what happened, along with some observations:

  • Since this rule had been in effect since August of this year, and the event was not announced until the end of September, we know that this rule predates the announcement of the tournament.  The event contracts may well have been signed before the rule was implemented, but I personally doubt this.
  • The rule clearly states the deadline for when contracts that predate the rule "may" be honored.  This should have been a red flag to everyone before the contract was signed.  It was apparently overlooked.  Am I the only observer of college basketball that knows the new rules come out every August?
  • The Bleid Sports website makes the transparently inaccurate statement that the rule affecting this event was "...passed on Wednesday night at 10:05 PM..."  Based on the tenor and comments of Blair, this is almost certainly an intentionally misleading and unethical statement.
  • As far as I know, the University of Kentucky is not "... host[ing], sponsor[ing], or conduct[ing]..." the event.  I suspect when the event organizers contacted the NCAA about the rule (they appear to claim the NCAA okay'd it three times) that the NCAA told them as long as UK wasn't hosting, sponsoring or conducting it, it would be fine with them.

    But I'll bet Sandy Bell at some point decided to look into it a little further, and my suspicion is that because there are a number of players that UK is actively recruiting on the rosters of the teams playing, the NCAA informed Bell that they would not view the event favorably and that it could or would be a violation of the rule.  Bell then informed the event organizers that UK could not allow Rupp Arena to host the event and risk an NCAA violation.
  • It is also possible that the NCAA viewed the term "host" to "pass through" from the University of Kentucky to Rupp Arena.  If that were the case, though, you think that Bleid Sports would have run into that when they inquired.

  • What we don't know is what the NCAA really said.  Bell may just be playing it safe, and probably is.  If so, you can hardly blame her.  I suspect that the NCAA did not forbid the game, but merely issued an unfavorable advisory ruling about the application of the rule in this case.  In the final analysis, there is virtually no doubt whatever that UK nixed the event, not the NCAA.

Obviously, Bleid Sports would not want to blame UK for deciding to protect its own interests, so they blamed the NCAA, and everyone gobbled it up like Thanksgiving turkey and got out their flails to beat the whipping boy a little more.

Razzies to Blair and Bleid Sports for their unethical and intentionally deceptive version of events on their website, and their absurd hyperbole about "...[bringing] justice on the NCAA."

Razzies also to the NCAA for being hyper-legalistic, which they almost certainly were.  I might also blame them for dragging their feet if I knew the whole sequence of events, but since I don't, I won't.  A better solution would have been to ask UK to certify in writing that they were not involved in the tournament in any way, and allow it to proceed with the understanding that further tournaments of a similar type would be a presumptive violation of the rule.

For those of you who are able, go out and enjoy the tournament at Lexington Catholic Christian Academy, and support the kids' efforts to bring more good basketball to the Commonwealth.

Anyone who knows firsthand the whole sequence of events is welcome to email me at aseaofblue@gmail.com.  If their bona fides check out, we'll be happy to give them a forum here.

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