Despite changing NCAA regulations, Solich lands top recruiting class

Ohio recruiting coordinator Brian Haines, left, and head coach Frank Solich at the Feb. 2 Singing Day press conference. (Courtesy of The Post -- Staff Photographer Alex Goodlett)

At his press conference on National Signing Day, Ohio football coach Frank Solich proudly announced that this year’s recruiting class could be the best he has had in his seven-year stint in Athens. His first point of emphasis for the 24-man class wasn’t the speed, skill or size of the athletes, though.

“We’ve got a lot of excellent players,” Solich said, “a lot of guys with really high character.”

As more and more NCAA rules violations are being brought to light at high-profile athletic programs, Solich and his staff are trying to ensure their team’s compliance by bringing in players with skill and character. But, even the process of recruiting itself is riddled with rules and regulations. The school’s compliance staff must meticulously monitor and any and all forms of contact with a prospective student-athlete.

The NCAA has a stringent calendar that all Division I football programs must adhere to when recruiting prospects. There are limits set on personal contact, visits to a prospect’s “educational institution” and chances to evaluate prospects during competition.

Even if a coach is approached by a prospect’s parent at the mall, he can do no more than exchange pleasantries, lest the program forfeit one of its 42 face to face contact opportunities – and that’s only if it’s during the “contact period.’

Any contact outside of that seemingly arbitrary two-month window from late November through late January — specific dates vary from year to year determined by a formula in the NCAA Bylaws – and a program could likely find itself slapped with a sanction.

“It’s tough. You’ve got to stay on top of it,” Ohio tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Brian Haines said. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing and what’s right.”

But, Haines said there was a simple solution to effectively navigate the NCAA’s constantly changing rules and regulations, and ensure all his actions are on the level.

“Put our compliance department in your favorites in your phone,” he said. “We’re always communicating back-and-fourth and they do a good job of helping us out.

Haines shouldered much of the responsibility in determining whether a recruit’s athletic abilities merited a scholarship from Ohio University.

Tricia Turley, associate athletic director for Compliance and Student Services, on the other hand, made sure the recruits and the recruiters were held up to NCAA standards.

“We handle what paperwork needs to be completed by the prospect and when,” Turley said in an email correspondence. “We also provide academic assessments based on the NCAA Qualifier standards for the coaches and help facilitate the admissions process.

“We also answer various questions about communication with the prospects.”

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USC expects athletes to self-report meetings with agents

USC student and former NFLPA-certified agent Teague Egan (right) lounging in the 1st Round Sports golf cart. (From The Los Angeles Times)

The University of Southern California is taking steps to make sure its student-athletes avoid contact with agents or, you know, at least give the school a heads up if there is contact.

On Tuesday the USC Office of Athletic Compliance emailed a four-page memo to the school’s 35,000 students and 5,000 faculty members outlining what could be considered impermissible contact between student-athletes and agents — an ‘innovative’ policy that vice president of athletic compliance Dave Roberts said is the first of its kind.

And to think, all this was prompted because USC running back Dillon Baxter accepted a free ride in a golf cart from a fellow student/former NFLPA-certified agent Teague Egan.

‘Cause the whole Reggie Bush fiascoOJ Mayo scandal, and Joe McKnight investigation weren’t enough.

From The Daily Trojan:

Under the policy, students, staff and other third parties are required to notify USC’s compliance office of their involvement with a sports agency before any interaction with student-athletes.

“We’re publishing this to the student body, so they can be aware,” Roberts said. “Of course, somebody could choose to ignore it, but we have to at least be proactive by putting the policy in place.”

Specifically, the new regulations stipulate that all such parties provide written notification to the school’s compliance office within 24 hours of their involvement with a sports agency or similar marketing agency.

Those found to be in violation of the policy would then be subject to remedial action and/or discipline, according to the release.

Essentially, all this “Athletes and Agents” policy does is attempt to deflect blame away from the Trojans if and when more violations surface. “Hey man, we told them not to talk to agents and they said they’d totally tell us if they do. What more can we do?” C’mon, the school replaced football coach Pete Carroll, who jumped ship when heavy-duty sanctions were handed out, with Lane Kiffin.

Lane freakin’ Kiffin — that bastion of coaching integrity. USC didn’t exactly clean up the program with that hire.

Student-athletes are forced to sit down with school compliance officials multiple times a year and learn in excruciating detail about virtually anything and everything that could jeopardize their amateur status and violate NCAA regulations. The ones who accept money and gifts from boosters or meet with agents before deciding to go pro know what they’re doing — and that it’s wrong.

(We’ll save the debate about whether student-athletes should be paid for another time.)

Sure, Athletic Departments have some incentive to self-report violations to the NCAA when it’s obvious the NCAA is going to find out down the road anyway. But why in the world would a student-athlete report talking with an agent?

What sort of professional contract is an agent going to be able to net for a student-athletes who can’t play his sport because he spoke with an agent? If they’re going to get busted, they’ll get busted but don’t expect student-athletes to voluntarily fork over cash and get themselves suspended.

What USC’s policy boils down to is “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the athletic department. But hey, that kept all the gays out of the military right?

Tennessee officials: ‘Swiperboy’ didn’t violate NCAA regulations

Renaldo 'Swiperboy' Woolridge and former Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Well it looks like Tennessee is at it again. Reports surfaced earlier this week that Volunteers basketball player/aspiring hip hop artist Renaldo Woolridge may have violated NCAA compliance regulations.

Like Vols coach Bruce Pearl didn’t have enough on his plate.

To no one’s surprise Tennessee officials have vehemently denied that Woolridge — perhaps better know for his skills with a mic than with a ball — received any improper benefits when he allegedly rented the upstairs  room of a Knoxville campus bar to shoot his newest video fo’ free.

From the  Chattanooga Times Free Press:

UT officials said that research done by the school’s compliance staff found that no violation occurred because nothing was recorded and Woolridge simply was scouting the location for possible future use.

Woolridge’s talents as a hip-hop artist under the name “Swiperboy” are well-documented, and his music videos have been shown at UT football and basketball games.

He has been working exclusively with the Volunteers’ scout team, has played in only two games since the end of November and did not dress for Saturday’s loss to Connecticut because of an ankle injury.

The drinking establishment in question, the New Amsterdam, apparently wasn’t on the list of campus bars Vols football and basketball players were banned from frequenting after reports surfaced that a number of players weren’t charged a cover on Thursday nights at another Knoxville bar eloquently titled Bar Knoxville.

(Of course, that might have also had a little something to do with a couple football players deciding to pummel an off-duty officer outside Bar Knoxville back in July. Chicken or the egg, right?)

Regardless, UT’s findings completely contradict statements made to the Knoxville News Sentinel from an unnamed source apparently with intament knowledge of the New Amsterdam.

From the News Sentinel:

“It was given to him by the New Amsterdam for free because we do support him and UT sports in general,” the source said.

“He shot the video, like I said, to support UT. It was basically done at the New Amsterdam because it’s one of the favorite spots for UT college students.”

The cost for leasing the room for special occasions was not available.

It seems there’s one easy way to get to the bottom of this caper — watch the music video. Unfortunately the video for Swiperboy’s newest single “Snap Back” appears to be a pretty ambitious project, as the part shot (or not shot) at the New Amsterdam was only small portion.

And if Woolridge doesn’t want to hire dancers he can always bring back the Vols’ recruiting hostesses.

— bartftc@gmail.com

Twitter: @bart_logan

Q & A with David Ridpath

Dr. B. David Ridpath is an assistant professor at the Ohio University School of Recreation and Sports Sciences where he teaches courses in sports law, marketing and issues in intercollegiate athletics. Prior to coming to Ohio, he worked as an NCAA compliance officer and spent time teaching at the Mississippi State and Marshall University sports administration programs among other institutions. Ridpath owns a wealth of knowledge with respect to collegiate athletics and the issues and regulations facing student athletes. He has been interviewed on ESPN’s SportsCenter and in The Sporting News. He is also a regular guest on ESPN’s Outside The Lines.

Bart Logan: You used to work as an NCAA compliance officer. What were your duties? Were you out of Indianapolis?

David Ridpath: Actually, I worked for an institution. I worked at Marshall University (as the) assistant athletic director for compliance and student services. Before that I had worked at Weber State University, which is a school in Utah, and also coached here, and then worked a Division II school in Georgia. So, I’ve never really worked, per se, for the national office. Compliance is essentially – assuring to the best of your ability – having systems in place to NCAA conference and institutional rules and regulations with regards to athletics. That’s essentially what it is.

While I was one person – you typically have a staff, but I didn’t really have a staff at Marshall – but compliance with rules is everyone’s responsibility. When you have a far-reaching athletic department like here where you have 300 athletes, 400 athletes, and a huge department, and other people who are very interested in athletics, it can be a very difficult job.

Logan: Were you the person who would run the athletes through during the year and outline what would be a violation?

Ridpath: Absolutely. You have several meetings with teams – sometimes with individuals athletes, obviously with coaches – just saying, “This is what can be done. This is what can’t be done. This is what you need to do.” You really tell the athletes, sadly it almost got to the point of just like “don’t do anything until you ask” almost.

Ohio University assistant professor of sports and administration David Ridpath. (Courtesy of USA Today)

You feel bad about that because you want to give them a little bit of freedom but it almost became that way. You try to have layers of protection and certainly the first-line person is the coach. But, if you have a coach who’s a little more desperate to win than to follow the rules, it can become a little more problematic. Everybody has to be pulling on the same rope and that doesn’t happen very often.

Logan: Do you think that there’s a double standard for the big sport athletes – the football players, the basketball players – than other smaller athletics in terms of revenue production?

Ridpath: Yes. And I know that for a fact. How it works: the NCAA national office exists for the membership. The membership does make the rules in that very big, thick rulebook… That national office wields a tremendous amount of authority in interpreting what those rules mean.

You and I might look at a sentence that says, “this desk is brown.” I think we can both agree with that. That might be an NCAA rule. Somebody could come and say, “it’s actually brown and light brown and there’s a trim.” There’s a lot of grey area in NCAA rules and that’s where the national office yields a lot of authority. But, I’ll tell you who wields more authority – conference commissioners, big time schools, TV networks, and bowl committees.

You just look at Ohio State situation. (Paul) Hoolahan of the New Orleans Bowl… basically admitted to everybody “Yeah, I called the NCAA. I called Ohio State. I called the Big Ten. I told them we need to protect the integrity of this game.” OK? I know that Jim Delany of the Big Ten and Mike Slive of the SEC don’t sit a twiddle their thumbs and wait for this national office to make a decision. They’re on the phone. They’re talking to people and they’re putting an immense pressure. Not so much like, “hey, I hope you can really find something that works.” It’s more like: “here’s what we need. Make it work.”

The interpretation for the Ohio State situation is in no way related. I’ve actually been working on this for the past few days and there’s going to be more to come, but let me just show you an example. This took weeks for somebody to finally say this. You figure that if it was an interpretation the NCAA would say, “Here’s why we did not suspend the Ohio State players.” … Here’s the wording of why those five athletes at Ohio State were eligible… (The NCAA interpreted that they were) ‘Innocently involved.’

Would you agree that they were innocently involved? There’s [sic] been mountains of evidence. They knew what they were doing was wrong. (For) Gene Smith, who’s a very good athletic director and a good guy, to sit there and say, “We didn’t educate them enough,” is just a load of crap to essentially throw a smokescreen up.

Then it says, “No competitive advantage was gained.” Now typically that could mean no competitive advantage was gained by selling the stuff. I would say that’s true. But the other thing is the fact that they were kept on the team. Those five had a significant effect on that game. If those five didn’t play, Ohio State loses by three touchdowns, even though Arkansas couldn’t catch a pass…

NCAA rules are made to be twisted, turned and abused. And, it’s usually the powerful that get that consideration… I used the example of this with a friend of mine that was with the NCAA. I said, “let’s face facts here… If I was still at Marshall University and Randy Moss’ dad… was shopping him around for $180,000, would Randy Moss have been able to stay eligible?” Their answer was probably not. “If Randy Moss was selling his stuff when I was at Marshall – Byron Leftwich, Chad Pennington – would they have been eligible for a bowl game?” Highly doubtful.

In this case a lot of people got involved who are very, very powerful and basically the bowl director – the Sugar Bowl – let the cat out of the bag. There were a lot of things going on behind the scenes. So that’s the fundamental problem. It’s arbitrary, capricious and not enforced equitably across the board. The standards are nebulous. I could look at almost any NCAA rule – and I gave you that pretty silly example – and find a way to make it work.