It’s unfortunate Hofstra guard Brad Kelleher lost roughly two-thirds of his division one career in a battle over his eligibility. In sum: five years ago Kelleher played four games in Australia’s professional league, alongside professionals but wasn’t paid. This is common in Australia and across Europe and has become a focus of various NCAA eligibility investigations.
The NCAA investigation into Kelleher concluded this summer, and the end result was Kelleher being deemed ineligible for all of his junior season, and the first eight games of this season.
However the case, when examined closely, uncovers an investigative process and appeals system that is at best plodding, and at worst random, illogical, and prone to the arbitrary interpretive whims of NCAA investigators.
Of note: the NCAA was contacted for its input into this story. Multiple voice mails went unreturned.
The first thing that requires clarity is Kelleher’s violations and penalties (yes, plural). Kelleher did NOT lose one year and eight games because he played in four games with professional players. The fact is that the NCAA determined there were two infractions:
- Kelleher signed a professional agreement. The penalty for this is one year under the NCAAs “sit-a-year, charge-a-year” relief in the reinstatement process for violations related to professional agreements/contracts.
- Kelleher played four games with professional players in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL). The penalty for this is generally a 2-for-1 relating to participation. Thus, eight games.
That clarified, the “professional contract” is the obvious heart of the story. It is what cost Kelleher one season, and set in motion the events detailed here. At the bottom of this piece is a copy of the form the NCAA ruled a professional contract. So you don’t get confused, there is only the one page.
When showed this form and asked (without any detail other than the form) if this represented a professional sports contract, more than one lawyer said no. Admittedly, this is nothing more than anecdotal and representative of nothing.
Chuck Harmison, however, agrees that this form is not a professional contract. Harmison’s assertion is important because he is the general manager of Australia’s NBL. It’s his job to administer such things in his league. Harmison testified more than once in the case that what Kelleher signed is indeed a standard registration form, and that the professional contract is an entirely different document, and is about 40 pages long.
“We saw what Brad had signed, and we never believed a violation had occurred in this area,” says Hofstra athletics director Jack Hayes.
To summarize: we have a form that looks nothing like a contract (and the very last line says “NBL Registration Form”), and the man that manages the league in which Kelleher participated says it isn’t a professional agreement. What’s more, during the case the NCAA agreed no money changed hands and Kelleher wasn’t paid.
Yet the NCAA still determined it was a contract and Kelleher was a professional.
(Side note: Kelleher’s four games were home games. He was never even provided meal money on the road.)
Now, let’s move on. No matter how illogical, the NCAA is charged with making these decisions and that was its decision. Obviously Hofstra immediately appealed the decision and process dictates it goes to the NCAAs Legislative Review and Interpretation Committee (LRIC)
The LRIC is made up of administrators from various member institutions, and NCAA personnel are part of the process serving as mediators. (Hold that thought.)
That meeting occurred in December 2009. By then, both CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and the CAAs top compliance resource were involved. The group again presented the one page form and the full contract, as well as the testimony from Harmison that one was not the other.
Hofstra lost that appeal.
This left one last hope, Hofstra’s final recourse in the appeals process, to the NCAAs Division One Legislative Council.
According to the NCAA website, the Legislative Council:
“…shall include 31 members and shall be comprised of athletics administrators (e.g., athletics directors, senior women administrators, assistant athletics directors, conference administrators), faculty athletics representatives and institutional administrators to whom athletics departments report or who have other significant duties regarding athletics…”
(To save reading for those less interested in the mechanics, here’s more detail on the Legislative Council.)
This appeal was held in middle January and during the appeals process Hofstra provided a presentation of the facts to this third committee of NCAA administrators via conference call. In less than one hour Hofstra was notified via email that this final appeal was denied.
Now out of options in the appellate process, Hofstra had one path remaining: making this a reinstatement case. This is used when a decision has been made and appeals exhausted, but an NCAA institution would like the NCAA to review the penalties imposed for possible relief.
So while the Hofstra basketball team was slipping past Georgia State 68-67 on Friday of this past year’s CAA tournament, the reinstatement case was being heard.
In its case Hofstra offered the NCAA three scenarios of relief:
- Essentially “time served,” since the season was nearly over and Hofstra had initially sat Kelleher on its own accord.
- Call it a season. Kelleher would remain ineligible for 2009-10, but be fully eligible at the beginning of this season (2010-11).
- Considering the circumstances of the case and that no money ever changed hands, replace the 2-for-1 penalty with a 1-for-1. The net: a four-game suspension instead of eight.
In this third scenario Hofstra added a sub-request. The school asked that regardless of the decision—eight games or four games—would the NCAA permit them to use their two exhibition games to count against the penalty?
The NCAA had established the precedent last year in its decision against John Wall. Wall was suspended for two games—Kentucky’s exhibition game against Campbellsville and season opener against Morehead State—after Wall admitted to taking about $800 in expense money from an agent. Wall also repaid the expenses.
The NCAA said no to all, and the eight-game suspension would begin with Hofstra’s season opener.
(Epilogue: Hofstra made a hail mary appeal to the NCAA in June. They asked for a review due to extenuating circumstances of player attrition: HU lost two freshmen commits who had signed NLIs, and two freshmen—Halil Kanecevic and Chaz Williams—transferred out of the program. The NCAA denied this based on the fact that Kelleher and the defections were not linked.)
With no place left to turn, Hofstra sent out its release last week to bring closure to the issue for Kelleher and the school.
While politely declining comment, the CAA confirmed that the time line and process described above is correct.
That’s the timeline, but the implications live on. More than one confusing and disturbing item requires questioning.
First, there is the inherent problem of the NCAA handling appeals of NCAA decisions. I realize those appeals processes have member schools involved and the NCAA can maintain you presented your case to a group of your peers. And that sounds fair.
But really, given politics being political, who would overturn (thus saying “wrong”) the decision of a peer? Who would dare call the NCAA wrong? Given the ramp up we’ve seen in enforcement, you never know when you may need those same people.
There’s no way you create that conflict. Nobody is going to both turn their backs on a potential friend (your school may be in front of the committee one day, and people talk) and bite the hand that feeds them (NCAA and basketball tournament money) within an appeals process.
And even if I’m off base or being dramatic—neither of which is true—the fact that it is so easy to see this conflict of interest implies the system is broken. We’re also not going to go into the fact that the NCAA serves as the police, but are also the ones profiting from those that they police. Hollywood makes millions with that plotline.
Second, I don’t understand how the NCAA—steeped in a case precedence system philosophy—can allow Kentucky to use its exhibition game as part of a penalty and not Hofstra. The Wall case was popular and recent. I can’t imagine digging for details was difficult. In fact, if the NCAA ever permitted a school/player to use exhibition games as part of its penalty, I cannot find it.
Third, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the manner in which the NCAA metes out these penalties. All anybody ever asks for is consistency, but it’s difficult to gauge.
- Nebraska’s Christian Standhardinger sat 15 games last year, the Huskers nonconference slate, for playing in a pro league in Germany. According to usabasket.com, Standhardinger played 28 games for Ehingen/Urspringschule.
- Iowa State’s Lucca Staiger did sit a year, presumably for the offense of signing a contract, but sat zero games for playing with professionals.
- West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli sat out the first 20 regular season games. Curiously, 11 games were for participation, and nine were added for expense money benefits. Interesting CAA tie–Kilicli’s professional teammate that forced the eligibility question: Mason’s Lamar Butler.
“We were disappointed in the outcome,” says Hayes. “Throughout each step we felt that we demonstrated that the only violation that had occurred was the matter of playing with professionals, and we were prepared to address that issue from the start. We communicated this throughout each of the appeal processes.”
But here’s the disturbing part that shouldn’t be lost in the apparent randomness of penalty: you’ve got to believe every single one of these players–and every player who participates in these leagues and those penalized by the NCAA–signed some form similar to Kelleher’s.
You sign a form for your child’s soccer league. It’s reasonable to assume professional basketball leagues would require every player to sign some document with terms surrounding drug testing, injury liability, etc.
How were some registration forms either not reviewed, or determined to be registration forms and not professional contracts? If consistency existed, every one of them would get one year (or not).
There appears to be a standard of consistency missing from both a depth and emphasis perspective. That’s scary to universities who recruit these kids not knowing what to expect.
This whole situation is very important to watch as Enes Kanter awaits his fate.
According to the general manager of his Turkish professional team, Kanter received more than $100,000 in benefits over three years. That general manager turned over banking records, according to the New York Times story. This includes a salary of $6,500 per month.
As with Kelleher, you have the general manager saying the words to the NCAA. The New York Times story also says “…Kanter’s case is complicated because he did not sign a contract with the club.”
And while Kanter–hoping to become an NCAA student-athlete–may or may not have signed a registration form, we do know one document he did sign: the back of his paycheck.
(Yes, it’s two clicks.)