When NCAA says no, Howard’s hometown steps up

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Playing in the Final Four is usually a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Butler was lucky enough last year to play in Indianapolis, but this year’s Houston venue is a bit tougher trip for families to afford.

Any booster willing to help those families isn’t allowed, either. Against NCAA rules.

For example: Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay offered to fly Matt Howard’s family to Houston, but the school nixed it. So he instead donated to a fund started by the town of Connorsville, Ind., (Howard’s hometown). $3,000 later, the family can go to Houston to watch Howard play.

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(Something similar happened for the family of VCU’s Toby Veal, too. Read the details here.)

NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today that’s helping families with expenses such as attending games is something he’s open to exploring other options. Hopeful, right?

Then again, he hardly sounded open to it when he spoke to PBS earlier this month for a special on the “Money & March Madness; If everyone else is profiting from the multibillion dollar college sports business, why shouldn’t the athletes?”. From a lengthy Q&A:

Q: One of the things that former players reflected on — these are NBA players — is that many of their teammates watching March Madness, their families couldn’t afford to come to the games. They can’t take money from boosters to pay for their hotel bills or airfare, and the NCAA won’t pay for it either. They get two free tickets. Is that true?

A: The NCAA does not provide travel benefits for families.

Q: So if they can’t afford it themselves, they can’t see their children playing in the stadium or playing in the arena in March Madness?

A: I’m not sure what — is that a question or a statement?

Q: I mean, their son cannot solicit money from someone —

A: That’s right. We do not want student-athletes soliciting money. That’s a fact.

Q: I mean, I think it would surprise a lot of people watching these games that, particularly in the Final Four, that the families can’t afford to come, yet there’s $700 million in revenue coming into the NCAA as part of this broadcast.

A: Well, I don’t know the extent to which families can’t afford to come to those games. I mean, you’re saying it as if this is a widespread phenomenon, and I’d be fascinated to know what the extent of that problem really is.

The complete special can be seen here.

I don’t have a proper answer to this. There’s a slippery slope involved if boosters start offering things to families of players, but surely there’s a way to make exceptions for special events. It’s a start.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.