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NCAA Rules: Unofficial Visits An Official NCAA Problem

The fallout has begun from the former Tennessee Volunteers assistant, Willie Mack Garza's alleged payment of $1500 for then UT recruit Lache Seastrunk's unofficial visit to Knoxville.  This scandal has drawn attention to one of the biggest cheating opportunities available to NCAA coaches and boosters -- helping pay for unofficial visits.  Pete Thamel (Fair warning:  Thamel/NYT link) has an interesting article on the subject (hat tip:  Mike Miller) including some fairly brutal quotes from the NCAA, like this:

[Rachel] Newman Baker of the N.C.A.A. [Director of Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities] said she was skeptical of coaches who claim they have no idea how prospects paid their way to campus. "The thought or concept that coaches don’t really know what’s going on isn’t an accurate reflection of reality," she said. "I’m not buying that."

Especially in view of the recent UT scandal, it's certainly understandable that she wouldn't be buying the argument of ignorance.  Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, skepticism is not enough to bring sanctions on universities who violate this rule.  It is also very hard to monitor, as the NCAA can't really check into the finances of recruits without a paper trail or witnesses.  In any event, this particular cheating opportunity has been largely under the radar until now.

Coaches, especially high-profile coaches, know perfectly well this kind of cheating is happening:

The problem appears to be as pervasive in college football as it is in basketball. The former coach Urban Meyer said that in the later part of his six-year tenure at Florida, he heard about abuses elsewhere of the unofficial visit rule.

"I’d ask my assistants, ‘Why is this kid not visiting us?’ " Meyer said. "They’d say, ‘Coach, we’re not paying for his trip.’ "

Yikes.  This is clearly something that the NCAA will have to put more emphasis on in the future, and a move is already afoot to allow recruits to go on paid official visits in their junior year, instead of having to wait until they are seniors, as the current rule requires.

As usual, we see calls for over-the-top strictness in enforcement, including the "death penalty" for coaches as part of this debate, mainly from other coaches.  It's doubtful we will ever get to that point, and I would argue we shouldn't but major rules violators who use inappropriate benefits, either directly or through third parties, should be hit with major "show cause" penalties that last for more than just a couple of years.

Expect to hear a lot more about this in the near future.  I'm sure Sandy Bell is paying close attention, and so should everyone else.