Friday, August 6, 2010
Isiah Thomas' glaring conflict of interest
By Dana O'Neil
Florida International coach Isiah Thomas was hired Friday as a part-time consultant for the New York Knicks.
His job description, in part, includes assisting the “team’s senior management in various capacities, including player recruitment.’’
And the folks in Indianapolis wonder why people don’t take them seriously.
In the New York phone book-thick NCAA rulebook, there are rules telling a coach he can’t give a kid a hamburger or, heaven forbid, call a recruit too many times.
Those are considered competitive advantages.
So it’s not a competitive advantage for Thomas to say to a potential recruit, 'Hey, I know you’re trying to get to the NBA. Guess what? I work for an NBA team and better yet, the Knicks may end up in the lottery. Why not sign with me at Florida International and see what happens?'
At the very least, this is a gigantic conflict of interest.
When Thomas recruits a player, is it for FIU’s future or the Knicks? When a kid is on the fence about leaving early, which hat does he wear when offering advice? Is he privy to inside NBA information regarding pre-draft trades that could affect a player’s draft status, information that other college coaches couldn’t and wouldn’t know about?
But believe it or not, this has nothing to do with Thomas. He’s merely doing what college coaches have been doing for years -- finding a loophole in the NCAA manual and bulldozing his way through it.
He told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz that he and his FIU administrators checked with the NCAA and were given the go-ahead. On Friday afternoon, the NCAA confirmed to me that it is indeed not a violation.
NCAA spokeswoman Jennifer Royer provided the following statement: "According to an official interpretation on June 6, 2001, NCAA member institutions are provided the discretion to establish their own policies regarding employment and income arrangements between their athletics department staff members and professional sports organizations. An NCAA coach must, however, still comply with NCAA bylaws as they relate to the recruitment of prospects and the scouting of opponents."
So really this is about the NCAA, a bureaucratic disaster that can’t get out of its own way.
At its root, the organization is supposed to set the line in the sand, delineating amateur sports from professional.
It’s why athletes can’t be paid and coaches can’t cook under-the-table deals with recruits.
It’s why the Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities staff has diligently spent the past month going after the agent crisis assaulting college athletics.
Yet while the right hand is busy cleaning up one problem that blurs the line, the left is busy creating another, allowing a coach to straddle the line without penalty.
If I’m Bill Self, Roy Williams, John Calipari or any other coach at a top program, I’d be on the phone right now trying to find me a part-time NBA scout for a staff position or better yet, volunteering to work as one.