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NCAA Basketball: The Raphael Chillious Sanction

Raphael Chillious, assistant coach for the Washington Huskies, got gigged for a secondary violation the other day.  It wasn't his fault, either, it was the fault of a careless Sports Illustrated reporter.  That's the takeaway from this, but as usual with many tales like this one, there's more to it than meets the eye.

This is the kind of story that drives you crazy about coaches and some of the sports media, who, despite trying hard to do their job and do it well, sometimes get caught up in the gears of the NCAA's byzantine regulations -- even when the byzantine regulation in question is well-known and well-understood by both.

This story breaks down what happened, and rather than regurgitate it here, please go read the article.  Come back when you're done.

Back?  Okay.  As Major Payne said to his young charges in the movie by the same name, "What we have here is a failure to communicate."  The NCAA rule in question is this one: Evaluations for Media, Recruiting Services. Athletics department staff members shall not evaluate or rate a prospective student-athlete for news media, scouting services or recruiting services prior to the prospective student-athlete’s signed acceptance of the institution’s written offer of admission as a student and/or written tender of financial assistance to be provided upon the prospective student-athlete’s enrollment.

This is apparently interpreted as, "Thou shalt not talk about recruits to the media on the record."  As a general principle, this makes perfect sense, because coaches can gain a recruiting advantage by talking about how a particular player would fit into his system, or how he would use him, or how valuable he would be to the program, etc.  This rule is not new, it has been around for a long time. 

The coaches are aware of it, and the media who cover them generally take everything a coach says in a casual setting about recruiting as being off the record.  The media are no fools -- they know if they get coaches in trouble, that those coaches will never speak to them again for any reason.  It's as simple as that, and it's an unwritten rule that reporters do not repeat for attribution what a coach says about a recruit, ever, without telling them before the subject comes up or asking them before writing the story.

The first thing you need to do, if you are trying to objectively evaluate this situation, is read the Sports Illustrated article.  There are a few passages in there like this one:

Justin [Jackson] has Washington written all over him. He's still skinny, but he's looong—"the body type we like," Chillious says. Justin moves well. And Chillious knows he's a shooter.

Is "the body type we like" an evaluation?  The part about "moving well" and "knows he's a shooter" are not direct quotes, but the sentiments are directly attributed to Chillious.  Are those evaluations? In a strict sense, I would have to say, "Yes,", and the NCAA is very strict these days.

I think we can all agree this is weak beer, but so is driving a recruit 60 miles to Louisville when they are on a recruiting visit to Lexington, as happened some time ago to UK.  Little things like this really make people scratch their heads in confusion.

In light of all this, can Kentucky also look forward to a secondary violation being handed down over a tweeted comment about a recruit a reporter attributed to John Calipari recently?  I'm not sure, honestly. The tweet was withdrawn shortly after it was made, and I think for that reason the NCAA is unlikely to see it as providing a recruiting advantage.  To be fair to the NCAA, it is possible to make an argument that the SI article provided a recruiting advantage for Chillious, and it has not been taken down (and need not be now, that ship has sailed).

Another thing about the tweet is that there is no real evidence Calipari actually made it, unless they try to find witnesses.  In Chillious' case, he was consulted on the matter before publication, and assured, erroneously as it turned out, that the NCAA had agreed it would be okay:

"Her exact quote was, ‘It’s great to know this, because when it comes out, we’ll be able to look at it with that in mind. Great to know that’s how you did it,’ " Schoenfeld said. "Really led me to believe that these guys would be safe, unless of course, they committed (obvious) violations. In which case, whatever. If I wrote about some guy handing money to somebody or paying for whatever, then, yeah, a violation’s a violation."

I'm not sure I would interpret that as an "okay, go ahead" from the NCAA like Shoenfeld did.  The NCAA is incredibly technical and legalistic, and I think I would have asked for an explicit blessing.  But as we found out in the case of Calipari's 500th win "celebration," even an implicit NCAA blessing is not enough to forestall their ire.

In the end, I think Chillious was a victim of a careless reporter who should have known better, and it is my considered opinion that it was the media the NCAA intended to sanction here.  Since they can't directly sanction reporters, they did the next best thing -- slapped the coach the offending reporter wrote about with a very technical "secondary violation," which the NCAA well knows will be ignored if and when Chillious is ever considered for a head coaching job.  But a black mark is a black mark, even if it's almost invisible.

You can bet the message has been received amongst the coaching community, and no doubt, the media as well.  It's too bad, though, that Chillious had to take a hit for the media to get a smackdown.

Hat tip:  Percy Allen.  Rush The Court also has more on this.