The year began with questions and concerns about the eligibility of Enes Kanter at Kentucky. The questions arose after a New York Times article surfaced, quoting the General Manager of a pro club in Turkey who claimed that Kanter was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to play professionally for his team.
As the world turns, the report proved to lack substance.
Instead, the NCAA, the Kanters, and the University of Kentucky agreed--that Kanter received permissible expense money only during the three year period he played for the professional team. Oh, and an extra $33,033 in expenses, presumably designated to pay for educational expenses. That $33,033 is fine, provided the payments are made directly to the educational institution itself.
Therein lies the problem, and even an offer to repay from Dr. Kanter did not absolve Enes Kanter from the unpardonable sin. The amounts went into an account, with $13,033 still sitting there unused, but not with the school's name on it.
The NCAA passed a new rule this year allowing European players to play collegiately in the U.S. even though they played on a professional team. They have a stated intent to encourage these student-athletes, provided they do not indicate an intent to professionalize.
Is $33,033 in extra expenses, designated for educational expenses for a 16-year old kid, an indication of an intent to be a professional? Playing three years with the club team, the amount seems almost de minimis when considering whether a player is a "professional" in the normal sense of the word. Doesn't seem like it, does it?
So why do I think the NCAA got the decision right? Clearly, I see the rule, as applied here, to be a misapplication of justice as it applies to Enes Kanter.
As it applies to Enes Kanter.
But not as it applies to Enes Smith, or Phillip Kanter, or Suzy Tennistarish, or the next Euro soccer superstar that wants to play collegiately in the United States. For those players, it may be important to send a message--do not accept impermissible benefits or risk college eligibility. If you're a pro player in your sport, you're a pro player. The lines can be awfully blurred.
The NCAA needs a bright-line test. Lawbooks are filled with caselaw on specific cases where Judges have ruled with contorted logic and reasoning, in order to reach a desired result. Results-oriented jurisprudence, while seemingly fine in an individual case, do harm to a system of justice that needs precedence, and rules, that apply to many, not just one.
I am not unsympathetic to the individual student-athlete, Enes Kanter, however. Here's why I think the NCAA's decision may be right.
The NCAA Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement hears more than 1,000 requests each year for a student-athlete's eligibility to be reinstated. Almost 99% of those are granted reinstatement.
The committee is permitted to take into consideration the nature and seriousness of the violation; any impermissible benefits received by the student-athlete; the student-athlete’s level of responsibility; any mitigating factors presented by the school; applicable NCAA guidelines; and any relevant case precedent. The NCAA itself claims no two cases are identical.
The appeals committee is independent from the initial staff, and is comprised of representatives from NCAA member colleges, universities and athletic conferences. They may consider factors such as the Kanter's level of responsibility (keeping detailed records substantiating the amounts shown, offering to return both the unused portion of educational expenses and the extra amount spent for educational expenses) and the mitigating factors, including his efforts to remain eligible. If they do so, they may reach a "results-oriented" decision, while keeping the NCAA's "bright-line" test intact.
And that's why the NCAA may be right. The line of the rule shines brightly, but a student-athlete is permitted to play. If that's the way it works, the NCAA got it right. Jumping through all the hoops, for amounts designated as educational expenses only, and just-barely-becoming eligible after missing games and repaying amounts, shows the world that the rule is in place. But a deserving student-athlete is permitted to compete collegiately as well.
If that's the way it works, the NCAA got it right.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Kentucky Sports Report or Scout.com.