Blogger Spotlight: Rules can be interesting — ask Bylaw Blog

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There once was a time when a nameless blogger wrote a popular blog among college sports writers and fans that helped explained nuances and reasoning behind the NCAA’s myriad rules. A blog about bylaws? It might sound like homework for adults, but it was actually great.

Then this happened. And it seemed as though the Bylaw Blog would forever disappear.

Until the NCAA did the college sports world a favor and had John Infante, the assistant director of compliance at Colorado State, bring back his blog on the NCAA’s site. It’s as good as ever.

So, as the NCAA prepares to spend another summer tweaking its massive rulebook yet again, I had John on for the latest Blogger Spotlight. I was lucky, too. He’s a massive soccer fan and he was kind enough to send responses around various Gold Cup games.

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Q: After your identity was “outed” last summer, how did you decide to resurrect Bylaw Blog? Did the NCAA approach you or did you approach them? It seems like a natural pairing.

A: After I was outed, I decided I would not bring the blog back as a single, personal website. Luckily, the NCAA reached out to me as part of their larger blogging project for NCAA.org. It was the right mix of freedom and support. What’s surprised me more is how much writing once a week on a broader level than what’s going on at an individual school has changed my opinions on topics that I thought I wouldn’t budge on. And how strong some positions I now have are that I was fairly ambivalent about in the past.

Q: Example, please. I assume it wasn’t one instance that prompted the change, but is there anything that sticks out in your mind?

A: The best example is my view on the ongoing debate over nonscholastic vs. high school sports. I used to be pretty ambivalent. Now I’m convinced that nonscholastic sports are the future for developing college athletes, and the role of high school athletics will inevitably decline. The best way for the NCAA to regulate recruiting as high school sports become less important is to help organizations with proper controls and structure succeed by favoring them in the recruiting rules.

Q: How did the Bylaw Blog begin? I’m envisioning a mix of you explaining the nuances of your compliance job and people constantly asking you about the myriad NCAA rules led to its creation.

A: Part of my motivation was to “set the record straight” since there was not a lot of information about the nuances of NCAA rules. Look at how many people still think the NCAA prevents athletes from having part-time jobs. But mostly it was that the things I write on the blog are the fun part of my job. Digging through rules, putting together puzzles, and presenting in a way that others find useful. I wanted to do the fun part of my job more, so I turned it into my hobby.

Q: Most blogs associated with college sports have built-in audiences. Fans of the school, conference or sport want to know what’s going on. Have you found that to be true of Bylaw Blog? And who are those people – aside from media types and other school compliance officers?

A: The biggest audience I’ve seen is fans of schools who are facing investigations or violations. It’s an audience that’s growing, although the jury is still out on whether that’s a positive development. When news breaks that a school is under investigation or accused of major violations, fans want to know what it means. They want to know what’s going to happen next, if everything is going to be OK. And the more information about NCAA rules they can find, the better they tend to feel about the situation.

Q: There’s a disclaimer on the blog’s main page, but how often do people ask you for advice, clarifications, etc? I’d guess they view you as an extension of the NCAA’s main office.

A: I get questions on Twitter fairly regularly. And increasingly I’m getting accusations that one program or another is breaking the rules. I think it’s less that I’m seen as an extension of the NCAA and more that I’m a compliance professional with more than a few Twitter followers. Luckily, I don’t get questions from the two groups mentioned specifically in the disclaimer. I have never had a coach from another institution call me and I very rarely get calls from student-athletes or prospects who are at or being recruited by another institution.

Q: What kind of limitations accompany blogging on the NCAA site? Is anything deemed improper material or is anything suggested to you as a topic?

A: I have free rein to publish pretty much whatever I want, with direct access to the CMS, so my posts appear on the NCAA’s site without prior approval or editing. The NCAA staff has only edited one of my posts, and I agreed with the change (I had linked to a full, editable copy of the NLI on the same day there was an incident with a forged NLI. That could have lead to some mischief.). I struggle more with self-censoring and not wanting to appear like I’m just spouting a party line.

Q: Ah, the AAU debate. That stemmed from the Rivals rule, right? Your opinion here spells out your reasoning pretty well, which is tough to argue. What would be the tipping point for that change to actually take place?

A: That was a major part of it. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem though. The NCAA needs an alternative to AAU in men’s basketball to get behind, but a competitor to grassroots basketball needs the NCAA’s support to emerge. I’m a pretty outspoken fan of the US Soccer Development Academy, and that really took off when MLS decided to invest in youth development. The NBA could change the entire landscape of prep basketball if it decided to get involved in youth development.

Q: Are there any other college basketball rule changes that might benefit the sport? Or any that just bug you?

A: At this point it’s clear that limits on communication between prospects and coaches are providing an opening for the third parties whose influence we want to limit. Not to mention that phone calls and text messaging (when it was legal) are a bigger factor in men’s basketball recruiting than most other sports. Deregulation would give coaches equal access and not provide a maximum amount of contact that coaches feel compelled to meet (or exceed).

As far as rules that bug me, I’m not a fan of the summer school/summer practice proposal, at least in its current form. My biggest objection is that it doesn’t require a student-athlete to earn any credits he’s not already required to earn. Not to mention there’s a conflict with the July recruiting periods. I’d like to see a rule that rewards coaches who promote a focus on academics during the season with extra practice in the summer, and a summer recruiting model that support it.

 Q: Kentucky snagged the spotlight the last week regarding its stance on John Calipari’s 500th win. Are cases like that a compliance nightmare? Bad press for something that’s not going to actually land the school in hot water?

A: I’m much more worried about the hot water than the bad press. Given the intense debate over NCAA rules, doing what the rules require can attract plenty of bad press as well. I thought the debate between the NCAA and UK, which was branded as petty, was actually very important. Had UK and the Committee on Infractions gone to a hearing, it would have had a major impact on how effective the penalty would be going forward.

Q: What’s in your future? Is Colorado State a spot you could envision staying for a while (Ft. Collins is lovely) or might this job eventually turn into something at the NCAA? And if that occurs, what happens to the Bylaw Blog?

A: I think I could stay here a while. I’m not sure about a job in compliance at the NCAA or a conference, I really enjoy doing this job on a campus, I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much at the national office. If it was an opportunity to write full-time, that’s a different story.

More of John’s writing can be read here. He’s also on Twitter @bylawblog.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.