AAU Coach's Role Pivotal In AU Basketball Case

Auburn's NCAA penalties are discussed and explained by Thomas Yeager.

Auburn, Ala.--For more than 10 weeks the Auburn basketball program sat in limbo, waiting on a decision from the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions. Tuesday the decision came down from Indianapolis and the verdict was nearly the same one Auburn imposed when meeting with the enforcement committee three months ago in Arizona.

Because of infractions regarding travel and expenses of prospective recruiting athletes, the Tigers will give up one scholarship for each of the next two years and official visits go down from 12 to nine to hamper on-campus recruiting. With the total number of scholarships down to 12, Auburn will still have a good chance to field a competitive team under Coach Jeff Lebo.

The problem comes in the interpretation of the findings by the NCAA. The committee found that representatives for both Chadd Moore and Jackie Butler were acting on behalf of Auburn University, something Auburn officials deny is the case. Although some of the findings indicate the coaches knew visits were going to be made and even arrangements taken care of, in the end there was no evidence that Auburn was giving anything directly to convince those players to sign with Auburn. There was also no evidence that Auburn even offered the players involved scholarships.

Committee chair and commissioner Thomas Yeager talked about the penalties and the involvement of "team sponsors" in Auburn's penalties. He said that because of the certain allegations and findings the committee made that Auburn's case was different than the normal coach-player relationship.

"In this case this representative clearly crossed the line in activities," Yeager said. "He was bringing prospects to the institution's campus for events with the specific knowledge of the men's basketball staff. He was providing tangeable benefits in the way of transportation and lodging and meals on these visits.

"That's far different than the normal perceived relationship that high school and amateur coaches have. We're not trying to throw a wide blanket over every coach, youth center director or YMCA director, but by the same token that status does not give an individual immunity into crossing into NCAA recruiting legislation that they ought to be held accountable for."

The fact that the "team sponsor", in this case Huntsville's Mark Komara, had sent players to a number of schools including Alabama and Kentucky was not really taken into consideration this case, Yeager said. Although Komara could be construed as a representative of either or both schools, his ties to those were not looked into because this was solely about his involvement with Auburn.

"An individual can be a representative of more than one institution," Yeager said. "There's nothing in NCAA legislation and the definition of a representative that says you're only attached to institution X. You could be operating for any number of institutions."

Another concern in the case came because of the involvement of Dave Didion. A former Auburn compliance director, Didion left the University to work with the NCAA's Enforcement Staff, but not before a well-known feud with Coach Cliff Ellis occurred. The two had disputes over former Auburn players Moochie Norris and Chris Davis, but in the end Didion won out and both were ruled ineligible. That feud was something that the Auburn coaching staff was concerned about, but Yeager said that the NCAA felt like everything was handled the way it should have been.

"I think there are a couple of issues," Yaeger said. "First, it was a concern of the legal counsel of the coaches. It was not reported to be as much of a concern by the university. I think there are two things to note. The piece of legislation that was cited about the conflict of interest is written with the view that a former employee will have a favorable reaction to an institution under investigation. The charge in this situation points to the contrary that the coaches legal counsel were arguing that Mr. Didion may have had an axe to grind with the coaches and their particular behavior.

"Mr. Didion was involved early on and in an interview or two was removed from the case and was not involved of any of the analyzing of the information of what the coaches should be charged with. The committee felt like his involvement did not impact the processing of this case. In part because the allegation was that it was more to the university's detriment. At least that's what was envisioned by the coaches. The university did not necessarily share that view."

Auburn now turns to a new era of basketball under Lebo and his staff, but will have some recruiting problems to deal with because of limited visits both on campus and off campus. One thing is for sure, the NCAA had a problem with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) basketball and they used this case to pass the word along that changes are coming in the near future. One change may be how players are viewed that participate on certain teams.

"I think what it raises for everybody is the specter of amateurism issues," Yeager said. "This individual is by no means by himself in this area, but the whole issue of amateur teams providing players beyond actual necessary expenses like cash, cars and the stuff you see here. There are going to be eligibility consequences that are going to be attached to those kids. You may not have an institutional responsibility because he's not a rep of their interest, but there are going to be complications for the individual eligibility status of some of those players. They need to be very careful as coaches spending a lot of time recruiting somebody that may not be eligible."

No matter what happens on basketball courts around the country this summer, the NCAA has very little recourse to control things happening outside of the campus environment. Because of that Yeager said that they'll do everything in their power to keep the game as clean as possible beginning with making sure players maintain amateur status until their playing days are over in college.

"The NCAA's ability to reach these folks is limited because they are not employees of member NCAA institutions," Yeager said. "They operate outside the high school ranks. It's kind of indicative of what the problem is. They are in-between the cracks of some governing organizations. I think the bigger issue is that the kids need to be aware of is that playing on some of these teams as information starts coming out that they're paying players, they are going to spend a lot of time clearing their own name. How does it impact it? It might be to the extent that it might be more difficult for players and families that want to engage in high level competition without jeopardizing their amateur status, they might want to think long and hard about who they are signing on with."


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