Posted by MATT JONES
The NCAA on Friday reaffirmed its previous ruling that Enes Kanter will never step foot on a basketball court for Kentucky. The decision was not particularly surprising, as the organization had three times previously ruled against Kanter and seemed for some time to be dead set on drawing an Enes line in the sand, with virtually all other NCAA athletes on one side and Kanter standing on the other. A myriad of conspiracy theories can be trumped up for the decision, ranging from the NCAA's general dislike of Calipari to its President standing up for his former employer, the University of Washington, where Kanter was committed before flipping and heading to Kentucky. But the simple fact is that a conspiracy theory is not needed for the NCAA to act irrationally. In fact at this point, a lack of coherent reasoning and consistency seems ingrained in the core fabric of the organization.
The facts of the Enes Kanter situation have always been conceded. Kanter played in Turkey for two seasons and was paid a sum of money between the ages of 16-17 to be part of the professional club, Fenerbache. For many national sportswriters and college coaches, for whom nuance and shades of grey are as rare as a dodo bird, that has settled the issue. However, the NCAA has created a system in recent years to attempt to allow these so-called "professionals" the ability to play college basketball in America. Up until this point, the NCAA has recognized that the European youth system is different than that of America, with the notion of popular amateur athletics on the University level virtually non-existent. The best talent of Europe signs early with a professional club and is trained in the equivalent of a basketball academy, with money paid for their training and expenses. The NCAA has allowed these players to come to the United States and even last year, repealed the antiquated rule that forced them to sit out an equal number of college games to the ones they played for the professional team.
In Kanter's case however, the NCAA deemed $33,000 of payment given to Enes's father to be above what was a "necessary and actual expense." To the NCAA, that money represented a salary, given because Kanter was a professional. But of course, that conclusion doesn't pass the smell test. Does anyone honestly believe that a player would be deemed a professional, while playing for one of the richest clubs in Europe, in one of the most expensive cities in the world (Istanbul) and would only accept $16,500 a year in the process? If Kanter and his club truly considered him to be a professional, why would he have been paid such a small amount? Kanter's father has insisted that over $20,000 of that money was used for educational expenses, which if true, means that a little over $10,000 over the course of two years made Kanter a professional in the eyes of him and his club.
While that decision might seem a bit irrational, viewed in the abstract, it could at least be defended. But of course, the NCAA does not operate in a vacuum, and over the course of the last three months has issued three high-profile decisions allowing three high-profile players to compete despite amateurism violations. Each could be defended with some tenuous logic when released, but when viewed together with the Kanter decision, no consistent theme can be found.
Take Kansas Freshman Josh Selby. He was suspended for nine games and required to pay over $5700 to a charity of his choice due to his acceptance of that amount of improper benefits while in high school. Under NCAA rules, Selby was no longer an amateur. But the NCAA looked at the case and somehow determined that this violation could be redeemed if the money was simply paid back. How is the excess $5700 in expenses different than Kanter's $33,000? Is it just that the total is too large? Maybe so, but there is nothing in the NCAA rule book that says the amount makes a difference. Is the difference that the money was paid by a European club rather than a hustling street agent? Maybe so, but there is nothing in the NCAA rulebook that says where the illegal money comes from should make a difference. The difference is manufactured, but never explained by the NCAA.
Take Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. His father admittedly asked for $180,000 in improper benefits from Mississippi State, but the NCAA allowed Newton to play because it deemed that it could not be proven that his son knew about the money. Ok fair enough. In a vacuum that makes sense. But Kanter also claims to not have known about the money taken by his father in excess of the "actual and necessary" expenses. The NCAA claims that the fact money was taken is different than if money was simply asked for by the parent. However that difference is not based on any rule in the NCAA Rule book and the logic behind both cases (the son should not be punished for the sins of the father) applies to both equally. So why is Newton, who one has to strain the laws of credibility to believe didn't know his father was on the take, playing and Kanter, who likely didn't do the expense budget and probably didn't know the amount his father took, ineligible? Its hard to comprehend.
Or take the Ohio State five. All five broke NCAA rules when they sold or exchanged NCAA memorabilia that was given to them for various team accomplishments. All broke the rules and violated the amateurism standard. But, the NCAA allowed them to miss only five games and even went further by delaying the punishment because the group was supposedly unaware of the rule they were breaking. I am certain that 16 year-old Enes Kanter in Turkey had no clue what the NCAA rules were when he took the money from Fenerbache, so why doesn't the "I didnt know" apply to him? Is it because he has no BCS Sugar Bowl upcoming?
The simplistic way to look at the Kanter situation is also the easiest. He played for a professional team, so he was a "pro", end of story. But, when one looks beyond the surface level, those simplistic distinctions breakdown and are shown to be based on nothing in the NCAA rule book or from any logical consistency. Josh Selby, Cam Newton, the Ohio State Five and Enes Kanter all broke NCAA rules. All of them should have been ruled ineligible based upon a strict reading of the NCAA rules. But in three of the cases, the NCAA decided that the rules needed bending and rendered punishments that allowed for "flexibility." In the Kanter case, the rules were read strictly. What explains the difference? Well nothing in the NCAA rule book or any logical framework does, so all we are left with is one conclusion. The only thing certain about the NCAA's decision making process is that it will be consistently inconsistent.