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.

Click here for more Blogger Spotlight

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.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.