Not Entirely Random Thoughts On The Enes Kanter Issues

There are a lot of perspectives on the issues at stake in the Enes Kanter eligibility quagmire.


Here are four of my perspectives: (1) The Euro-interest; (2) the Kentucky interest, (3) the Domestic interest, and (4) the NCAA interest


The Euro-Interest

The Euro-interest in the Kanter eligibility issue is double edged - financial and political. The financial interest is fairly clear cut. As long as the options for talented young athletes to leave Europe are few, sports teams, amateur and professional, have a low-cost, high-quality talent pool controlled by current teams and leagues with high profit margins. At the point where the NCAA opens the Kanter pipeline to American college sports, control of this European talent pool is diminished if not totally lost. They lose high quality talent to the US, thereby denying them to their domestic venue; they lose the income from the sale and trading of contracts; and, they will be forced to pay higher competitive costs to retain the now smaller talent pool through bid up contracts and higher resulting compensations. Higher costs to put a sports product (perhaps with less talent) before the public ultimately means lower profit margins.


The foreign political interest is one we don't hear much about and centers around the patriotic fervor citizens of other countries (particularly, poor countries) have for their domestic athletes and participation in international leagues and sports competitions. Rather than being pleased that one of their citizens is trying to get a chance to play college ball in the US, their perspective is that the loss of a top athlete to another country is one less to uphold the national pride in international competition and still worse, that athlete may actually compete against their country's teams. So, even Turks with no financial stake in Kanter staying in Turkey are not sympathetic at all to his wish to play at Kentucky. It's rather like the attitude of a typical Hoosier fan toward a 5-Star Indiana HS basketball player having trouble getting eligible to play at Kentucky - ugly. 



The Kentucky Interest

Kanter gaining NCAA eligibility is a mixed blessing to Kentucky. Some of the BBN see this exercise as Kentucky/Calapari being cutting edge pioneers in collegiate athletics and take a certain pride in being first to test the new NCAA regulations regarding foreign athlete eligibility.


Obviously, Kanter playing on this year's team is a big boost with possible implications toward No. 8. And, potentially, No. 9, as the possibility for an NBA lockout could mean we have him for a second year as well. In addition, every European prep player (and Turkey, in particular) is avidly following this Free Enes story. Kentucky's reputation internationally would skyrocket and, at least for a while, we would claim the attention of all the best prep basketball talent in Europe as well as the United States. Not a bad thing.


Of course, Enes isn't eligible, yet, and Calipari/Kentucky have already taken criticism for even attempting to get "a professional" eligible to play. Some members of the BBN have wondered if the potential rewards of playing Kanter are worth the risks of what they see as a higher probability of a retroactive denial of Enes' eligibility by the NCAA. Such a disqualification after Kanter had already competed would almost certainly result in games being vacated. This is not a trivial concern in my opinion. In Enes' case, you have a set of entities, Fenerbahce Ulker, FIBA, Nedim Karakas (Fenerbahce general manager), and the rest of the Euro-league teams, who are ACTIVELY seeking to disqualify Kanter from NCAA eligibility.


This would be analogous to a situation where the significant entities in Bledsoe's case, the Birmingham School District, Parker High School, George Moore (athletic director of the Birmingham city schools), Steve Ward (Bledsoe's former coach at Hayes High School), Maurice Ford (Bledsoe's former Parker High School coach) and the Alabama High School Athletic Association, were actively trying to convince the NCAA that Eric WASN'T eligible. Although you might have a hard time convincing Pete Thamel that these entities in the Bledsoe case weren't biased, at least, if they were biased, they were inclined in Eric's favor and unlikely to engage in activity seeking to overturn any NCAA eligibility decision in Bledsoe's favor.


In Kanter's case they are not only biased against his eligibility but have the strong financial and political incentives discussed above to seek his disqualification even AFTER any initial NCAA decision to grant him eligibility. This is because they want to create strong dis-incentive precedents to prevent future secondary school athletes from leaving the Euro-talent pool for NCAA programs. Therefore, Enes and Kentucky run the risk that the Euro-interests will continue to discover (or manufacture) evidence even after he has initially been deemed eligible that would compel the NCAA to retroactively reclassify him as ineligible and vacate any games in which he played.


If a third Calipari school should have games vacated, the BBN and national media firestorm around our coach would be NUCLEAR. Quite possibly sufficient to cost him his job at Kentucky and maybe get him shunned from the entire NCAA. That seems an extremely high wager on the human and institution side for the chance to play one (very talented) Turkish basketball player. I hope Enes appreciates the risk Coach Calipari and the University are taking on his behalf.


The Domestic Interest

One area I'm intrigued by is the domestic impact of the opening of what I'm calling the Kanter pipeline. If the issues surrounding Kanter's eligibility are ironed out and a more or less clear path to freedom eligibility is defined, it could transform the American landscape in collegiate athletics.


The paradigm of higher learning is very different between the United States and the rest of the world. In most European-Asian-African countries, a University education is very difficult to obtain and, although there are club sports, there is no real such thing as an athletic scholarship. The youth sports system in Europe didn't grow into its current configuration accidently. Without University support for pursuing athletic excellence, professional sports businesses stepped in to develop and secure their talent pool.


Heretofore, the integration of youth sports and professional sports in these countries has made it difficult if not impossible to gain eligibility under NCAA regulations. But the new NCAA regulations remove that barrier, opening the way for quality European athletes to come to the United States on a student visa. The ability to use athletics to pursue a post-secondary education is a very enticing concept to Europeans and the rest of the world. It's my belief that the opportunity to play in the United States will greatly expand sports programs in Europe and elsewhere with the intent of riding an athletic scholarship on the Kanter pipeline to a university degree otherwise unobtainable in their own country.


So, if foreign students are taking up athletic scholarships how could that affect collegiate sports in the United States? For illustrative purposes, let's say the population of Europe is 900 million and the population of the United States is 300 million. All else being equal, you would expect only 25% of the top collegiate athletes to be American. If the WORLD population is 7 billion, again, all else being equal, less than 5% of college scholarships would be American. Extrapolate this idea forward and you could get a Kentucky basketball team that not only had no Bluegrass players on it but there might not be any Americans on it.


Obviously, all things aren't equal. Recruiting internationally is expensive which will limit smaller programs from taking full advantage. Also, you should expect the Euro-leagues to respond to retain as much of their talent pool as they can. There is also a quite understandable reluctance to leave one's home country. You should also understand that school policies that might discriminate against foreign students by reserving some number of athletic scholarships to Americans are not currently against the law. But, all in all, I expect the number of foreign athletes on campus to grow significantly in the short term and become ubiquitous in the long term.


The NCAA Interest

What does the NCAA get out of it? I have to think the answer is, "Not Much!" I assume there was a pent up demand by member institutions to untangle access to quality college age European athletes. Otherwise, it seems to be a lot of headaches for little return to the institution. There aren't many organizations around outside the public sector that are as reviled as the NCAA and continue to grow. Implementing the new regulations dealing with foreign student athletes seems an exercise in flagellation.


If anything, it's understandable that the first use of the new regulations to clear a foreign student athlete to play would be a slow thoughtful process but even this reasonable example of prudent care has drawn the criticism and ire of fans and media. I don't think the NCAA is taking their time because of any Calipari/Kentucky prejudice. Rather than a case of the NCAA implementing a policy of 'Chosa Kensa' (The Japanese inspection policy where obstruction and procrastination are used as a route to general delay of an awkward decision by lengthy study), I think they recognize the Kanter situation for the box of snakes it is...


As discussed above, the euro-interests in the Kanter case have tremendous financial and political incentives to plug the euro-talent to the USA leak before it becomes a torrent. This means, as opposed to the general case with United States prospects, every euro-recruit will come attached with significant (honest and contrived) issues to wade through before the player can be declared eligible. That's a ton of additional work by an already apparently overwhelmed NCAA Eligibility Center on high profile recruits that will result in significant - controversial - play in the press. And the number of these foreign athletes will grow and grow, imo.


Further, once the NCAA has somehow decided the recruit is eligible the game isn't over. By presenting further 'relevant' evidence, discovered or manufactured, subsequent to any initially favorable NCAA eligibility ruling, the Euro-interests can continue to menace a Euro-player's eligibility throughout his college career. This means the eligibility case for this international class of college athlete is NEVER closed. In addition, the Euro-interests can now target the true source of their enmity, the recruiting American athletic program. Any success on the part of the Euro-interests to overturn an initially favorable eligibility ruling by the NCAA puts the athletic program at risk for vacated games under the NCAA's own strict liability rules over a time frame as long as the NCAA is willing to accept input. It won't take many cases where the eligibility of foreign athletes is rescinded resulting in vacated games to put a complete chill on recruitment of Euro-players and put all the NCAA's work to create a Kanter Pipeline to waste.


Now, the NCAA could just engage a policy of Stare Decisis [stand by things decided. (Uphold previous rulings, recognize precedence)], effectively cutting off review to eligibility issues once having been ruled on, but that is a stance the NCAA has resisted for decades, and for good reason, in my opinion. (Consider what kind of eligibility fraud would ensue if a prospect's bonafides only had to stand up to a relatively short NCAA examination before becoming immune to discovery.) I firmly believe in the legal precept of Ex dolo malo non oritur actio [No right of action can have its origin in fraud].


Surprisingly, I actually expect the NCAA to clear Enes to play in the next few weeks. But even as that happens, we should stay tuned because this ride is far from over, imo.

Go 'Cats!!!!!