The NCAA just took another totally avoidable PR beating because of Houston

Boxes on top of boxes, stacked almost to the ceiling, the pictures Kelvin Sampson and others connected to Houston's men's basketball program shared over the past week are both inspiring and evidence that college programs, even rivals, do not hesitate to put aside their differences in the face of tragedy. Sampson asked for donations in the form of shirts, shorts and shoes. They subsequently came from all over and exceeded his own ambitious expectations. Just thousands and thousands of boxes filled with shirts, shorts, shoes and all sorts of things. His plan was to distribute the items to victims of Hurricane Harvey as quickly as possible. Because some people lost everything. And right now they need anything.

But NCAA rules complicated things.

"They don't want us sending all this nice gear to the top recruit in Houston," Lauren DuBois, a senior associate athletic director at Houston, told KHOU.com on Thursday. "But, obviously that is not our intention at all."

Of course that's not Houston's intention at all. Houston's intention is simply to try to do nice and helpful things for devastated people in need. But a Houston official providing anything to a prospective student-athlete (or his or her family) could theoretically be an NCAA violation. The rules, as written, put entire school districts off-limits. So boxes on top of boxes, stacked almost to the ceiling, largely remained right where they'd been for days while Houston officials waited to hear whether the NCAA would provide them with permission to get these items to the people who need them, however they see fit, quickly and without fear of punishment.

The NCAA did not immediately respond.

Houston officials made that clear to KHOU.com on Thursday.

They were frustrated, I'm told.

Then the KHOU.com story started making the rounds on social media late Friday/early Saturday thanks to Jay Bilas, Dan Wetzel and other influential media members with large followings bringing attention to the situation. Predictably, the NCAA was pummeled. Which means this is yet another scenario where the NCAA endured a public relations nightmare for no good reason.

It was all so avoidable.

The NCAA, suddenly in the middle of a social media firestorm, tweeted at 10:50 a.m. ET that it told the American Athletic Conference on Thursday that Houston "can give donations to anyone in need." DuBois told CBS Sports at 10:53 a.m. ET that Houston didn't actually get confirmation until "Friday mid-day." Either way, by the time everything was clarified, the social media damage was already done.

To be clear, I knew the moment I saw the KHOU.com story that the NCAA would eventually give Houston permission to do whatever it wanted to do, if only because it would've been ridiculous not to. But here's my question: Why let this become a story in the first place? Why not be proactive? All somebody in a position of power with the NCAA had to do is pick up the phone within minutes of Sampson publicly asking for donations -- which, by the way, was 12 days ago -- and basically say, "This could, as I know you know, technically be an NCAA issue. But do what you want and need to do however you think you need to do it. You'll obviously have no issues with us. We'll get the proper paperwork done whenever. But for now just know that we're proud of you for trying to help. Good job. And stay safe."

Is that really that difficult?

The byproduct of that proactive approach would've been Sampson talking positively publicly about the NCAA, and wouldn't that have been something given the history between those two? Instead, Sampson's hands were temporarily kind of tied. The school let that be known on Thursday. The story then circulated. So the NCAA took a public beating. And this is precisely why I wrote, more than four years ago, that the NCAA needs a Director of Common Sense and Decency.

Again, I knew this would all get worked out in time. I assume most others did too. My only point here is that it should've been worked out long before Houston officials had a chance to tell a television station that it wasn't worked out -- that way the NCAA would've looked good from the jump and never bad. Handled properly, with a proactive approach, this could've been a PR win for the NCAA. But it was instead another big L that played out publicly on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning.

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Gary Parrish is an award-winning college basketball columnist and television analyst for CBS Sports who also hosts the highest-rated afternoon drive radio show in Memphis, where he lives with his wife... Full Bio

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