Some explanations for the NCAA’s rulings on initial eligibility

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In case you missed, Matt Norlander’s finally gotten the CBS College Basketball Podcast up and running again after a summer of, well, nothing.

On Wednesday, Norlander got everyone’s favorite NCAA compliance expert, John Infante, to join him and chat about all things involving NCAA rules and regulations, which have seemingly dominated the headlines this summer. And while is quite informative and worth listening to in its entirety, the most interesting part of the discussion occurs towards the end as Norlander and Infante delve into some of the reasons that players end up getting ruled ineligible.

What makes the discussion so unique is that it doesn’t involve agents and boosters and financial advisors and No. 1 recruits and John Calipari and everything else that seems to dominate the writing on this subject. Instead, he delves into the academic side and looks at why players like Sam Cassell Jr. and Myles Davis have found themselves without a scholarship for the 2012-2013 season. If you missed the news, Cassell and Davis lost their cases to be accepted into Maryland and Xavier, respectively, due to classes that they took a couple of years ago at Notre Dame Prep that the NCAA no longer accepts.

The question that most folks — including Sam Cassell Sr. — had was why those classes couldn’t be grandfathered in? How come there are eight players currently playing Division I basketball after having taken those exact same courses, but Cassell and Davis were going to be left out in the cold this season?:

“When you’re wondering why the NCAA is doing something, when fans or commentators are asking ‘why can’t they just grandfather them in?’, you have to think about what scam you would run if that were the case,” Infante told Norlander on the podcast. “Which would be to put together a diploma mill, get it approved and then shuffle through as many basketball players as you could before you get caught, and then claim ‘well, they already took the course before you invalidated it.’ That’s what the NCAA is trying to combat by not grandfathering in the courses.”

That does make sense.

Part of the reason that there is a renewed interest in reviewing the courses that are being offered at these high schools, according to Infante, stems from something that happened back in 2007. The NCAA Eligibility Center opened up at that time, taking all of the approved high schools from the old NCAA Clearinghouse. The problem? The Clearinghouse was built with the intention of proving that every incoming athlete was working with the same courses and academic structure, but focused little on whether or not those courses and academic structures were fraudulent.

“Now, there’s a high school review team that actually digs in and makes sure that these courses are legitimate college prep high school courses and that the schools that are offering degrees are legitimate high schools preparing kids for college,” Infante said. “But there’s a gigantic back log. They can only work through […] two, three or maybe four high schools a day to get through the tens of thousands of high schools and hundreds of thousands of courses, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of athletes who might take a course but take it in a manner that’s not academically sound.”

“They might take an approved online course but work through it in a matter of hours. There’s horror stories of kids submitting transcripts saying they completed a semester of algebra in one minute or a semester of english in 15 minutes. There’s definitely some scams being run.”

The most frustrating issue for Cassell is that he’ll never be able to enroll at an ACC school, including Maryland. You see, the league has a rule that, essentially, says if you enroll and it turns out that you are a non-qualifier — as Cassell has been ruled by the NCAA — than you cannot play at any school in the conference. Ever.

That’s why you’ll see programs tell recruits with questionable transcripts not to enroll.

“That’s what’s turning the NCAA’s eligibility requirements into admission’s requirements, because the school just can’t keep the kids enrolled if they’re not allowed to get aid, never allowed to play, never allowed to practice at the school,” Infante said. “That’s why you’re also seeing a couple of kids where they’re not being denied, the reviews are taking so long that the schools are not letting them enroll because if it goes wrong, they’ll be ineligible. So they’re having to reclassify a year, because the school can’t risk letting them into the school until the NCAA finishes clearing the kid.”

(Seriously, if you haven’t done it yet, go listen to the rest of the podcast. There’s much more in there than can be discussed here.)

 

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.