Breaking NCAA bylaws

The NCAA is going through an era of change, which includes conference realignment. Northeastern belongs to the Colonial Athletic Association that is seeing it’s fair share of shifts. After the departure of Virginia Commonwealth University, the conference sits with 11 teams, but will play the 2013-14 season with nine as Georgia State University and Old Dominon University have announced plans to leave as well. Click through the photos for more.

The NCAA is known to run a tight ship. Staying in compliance with each line item in the NCAA’s 400-page-plus rulebook is mandatory for athletic programs to retain their competitive eligibility.

But the NCAA is in the midst of an era in which compliance with the rulebook and conference realignment are constantly in media headlines. For journalists and fans, the constant bombardment of the NCAA’s version of legal jargon can fly overhead if not properly explained.

John Infante runs Bylaws Blog, hosted by AthleticScholaships.net. He follows compliance issues across all sanctioned sports to compile the most comprehensive reports of NCAA violations.

With the NCAA in a period of change, Infante believes he is filling a void when it comes to reporting compliance issues.

“I do think there are people that would see this as a period where they could push the NCAA for greater change,” he said. “[I try] to be real and factual and kind of more analytical rather than emotional about certain cases and rules.”

Infante started Bylaws Blogs anonymously in 2009 while working as a compliance officer at Loyola Marymount University. The NCAA recognized the value in such an outlet and it offered to host the blog on NCAA.org, where it stayed for two years.

Eventually, Infante began feeling compromised by working for the nonprofit organization and blogging about its doings.

It also began to interfere with his daily work, so he put it on hold until AthleticScholarships.net, a high-school-to-college athletic recruiting resource, offered to rehost the blog as a service to universities, fans, future recruits and the media.

“I was able to get out working in compliance day-to-day and was able to start the blog back up because I didn’t have the conflicts that I’d had before,” Infante said. “The blog was the fun stuff.”

He said he isn’t a journalist or an NCAA “watch dog,” but an analyst. His time spent in college athletic compliance at Loyola Marymount as well as Colorado State University gives him the background to take a headline out of the day’s media and break it down into how the violation occurred – something mainstream media might not have the space or knowledge capacity to do.

“A lot of what’s out there is kind of based on assumptions of how the NCAA works or how compliance works,” Infante said. “What I was doing at the blog was kind of a way to do more of the fun stuff, the fun parts of compliances.”

Similarly, Jen Condaras, the compliance commissioner for the Big East Conference, runs DailyComplianceItem.com, a blog that highlights one bylaw per day as an educational tool. Each morning, she posts a new bylaw, written in the form of a plausible example.

“I think what is important and helpful, which goes a little bit further for the recipient, is when you put things into real life situations,” she said. “You don’t want to rattle off a bunch of bylaws, you want to put it into context where they are going to understand.”

Boston Globe Sports Editor Joe Sullivan echoed Candara’s sentiments at the difficulty of explaining broken bylaws and NCAA violations.

“I think the way you go about it by explaining what the actual violations were rather than the rule,” Sullivan said. “You say they violated NCAA rules and here’s what they did. That gets the point across in a much more understandable manner.”

Her blog has become more of an educational tool for league coaches and school officials than geared towards casual readers. Condaras partnered with JumpForward, a software solutions company specializing in college athletics, to send each morning’s blog post out as a daily email.

She believes that education is key in staying compliant with the NCAA regulations and is important for all involved – athletes, coaches, fans and the media.

“The importance just increases as we continue to change,” Condaras said. “Whether we start deregulating a lot of the minutia, for example in the area of recruiting or financial aid, I think it just becomes that much more important.”

She said that any knowledge that can be translated to anyone and everyone in a way that’s comprehend able, like what Infante is doing, is a benefit to college athletics and appreciated by the NCAA.

“I think a lot of people have paid attention to [Bylaws Blog] and tuned into what he’s going to include next,” Condaras said. “A lot of issues are fact drive and are very specific … when you can really put things into context in that regard and try to dig a little deeper than the bylaw itself to help people understand, I think that’s what very helpful.”

For a more on conference realignment, watch the video below.

A changing or delivery method

As I approach graduation (within days at this point), everyone keeps asking me what’s next and what I want to do. I have two answers that are completely contradictory: this and I don’t know. Then there are the debby downers who remind me journalism is “failing.”

It’s not failing, it’s changing. Newspapers continue to restructure as their ad and subscripting rates tumble. But within all that, are new digital media starts ups. Over the summer, Sports on Earth launched as a mix between long form human interest sports journalism and a word-countless place for columnists. It was remarkably similar to the original Grantland by Bill Simmons.

Joe Posnanski is one of the brains and faces behind Sports on Earth, but my indifference to Simmons has little to do with my favoritism towards SoE. It’s clean, it’s easy to navigate  it’s in its own niche.

Somewhere along the lines, Grantland added lesser-known writers, another blog (but aren’t they already?), podcast, videos, etc. Now it’s too busy. I don’t know where to click. I’m not sure how it’s that much different than ESPN besides the last of game scores. It just stresses me out.

Sports on Earth is where I turn when ESPN or the New York Time’s sports feature headlines don’t catch me or I’ve already read them. Their columnists offer different perspectives (and one is a Cardinals fan, bonus points). They use great pictures, and use them well. Small pictures don’t serve justice. They simply top a story with one photo that spans the width of the page. It gets even simpler with the content being all words.

There’s more to sports than a box score, both sites tackle it the sometimes softer, sometimes harder side. There’s the commentary and thought, and the live off the lines and out of the stat book. Pay attention, it’s all there and waiting to be read.

Waiting pays off for player and team

UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (Creative Commons via Flickr)

UCLA is finally seeing what they’d hope for when Shabazz Muhammad committed to the university on a basketball scholarship. His spot on the bench, or in the starting line-up, was put on hold while the NCAA ruled whether or not he was eligible to play is freshman season. The drama unfolded after he hand began attending classes, just weeks before the season started.

CBS Sports and almost every outlet that covers college basketball, reported on Nov. 16 that the star freshman had been reinstated by the NCAA and would make his first start in the Legends Classic against Georgetown University. He played 25 minutes and put down 15 points from the bench. (Ultimately the Bruins lost by eight points, 78-70, but without those 15 points it could have ben much worse.)

Better late than never I suppose.

To impose or not?

NCAA investigations into compliance violations are lengthy – they take years. Most resolved cases are between 18 and 24 months. In that window, universities generally impose their own sanctions in hope the NCAA will accept them and both organizations will be able to move along.

In some cases, universities decide again “self-imposed” sanctions and continue along, as if nothing’s wrong. It football, that usually means playing in postseason bowls which is the the goal of a season – six wins puts you in the running.

Ohio State University’s football team under the sunset. (Creative Commons via. Flickr)

Being undefeated in a season doesn’t exempt a team facing charges of scandal from extreme sanctions. Ohio State is facing the hard decision of playing in the Orange Bowl at the end of the season or taking matters to into their home hands and calling Sunday’s game their season end. They are waiting on official rulings from the NCAA.

In previous cases across FBS schools, one’s that have neglected to self-impose have been slapped with a bowl suspension the following year.

It begs the question, how can the investigation process be simplified? Is it fair to make universities wait and face consequences years later, if it could be an over-and-done-with-process?

The Sun Sentinel questions what Miami should do in the coming weeks.

There’s no crying in basketball

As other possible super stars and schools face eligibility issues relating to high school, plenty of issues arise with transfer. The latest sob story is still unfolding but dates back to a game played in the 2010, but starts with that former issue, get’s really complicated with no true end in sight. The question it draws though, is who’s at fault and how can the situation be fixed?

Luke Cothron’s transcript wasn’t suitable for the Southeastern Conference in which he signed his NLI in 2010. He couldn’t play for Auburn University after all the hype of breaking a verbal commitment to North Carolina State. He headed to the University of Massachusetts where he didn’t attend a single practice before leaving the school to return to his home state of Alabama.

The coach at University of New Orleans heard about Cothron’s situation and told him he could come play for UNO during his freshman spring semester of Fall 2010, and then transfer to another D1 school (UNO was moving to D3 — all players were to be given transfer waivers). The only problem was, no one cleared the move with the NCAA. Cothron never even registered (or attended) a class.

He told CBS Sports that he showed up on Monday for practice, played six minutes of Tuesday’s game and was out by Thursday when the university realized they screwed up the transfer rules. They ignored the year of ineligibly and never signed a waiver for the transfer. Those six minutes he played are now counting as his freshman season and with the responsible staff now at new universities across the country, there’s no way to get them back.

Everyone is knows the the transfer rules – even fans – but what if this happens again?

Two birds, one stone: Sandwiches and dessert

Parish Cafe on Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay can have long wait times at prime dining hours. If it’s carefully crafted sandwiches and something sweet you’re craving, its second location in the South End is sure to hit the spot.

Located on the corner of Mass. Ave and Tremont St., it has an identical menu as their older sister location (currently celebrating its 20th anniversary this week), where each sandwich is created by a local chef and named for them or their restaurant. The entre menu is mostly crafted in house with a few expections.

With the focus so heavy on the sandwiches and entrees, picking Parish to curb a sweet tooth craving may not come on first instinct, but can certainly be accomplished. If picking your meal was hard, you might as well just flip a coin for your dessert selection as with only two options, it’ll save you agonizing pain.

The white chocolate bread pudding is $7.75 at Parish Cafe on Mass. Ave and Tremont St.

White chocolate bread pudding. Giant ice cream sandwich. White chocolate bread pudding. Giant ice cream sandwich.

Heads, pudding it is. Served as a hefty slice – roughly 4 inches by 4 inches – piping hot with whipped cream and a chocolate sauce drizzle. The pudding itself is moist, but solid with subtle hints of the white chocolate breaking through the custard soaked brioche. At $7.75 is more than enough to spilt.

“I love sandwiches and there’s are some of the best,” Robert Mullen, a diner from the area, said. “The bread pudding was a fantastic finish to a quality meal.”

Let Parish be a lesson, just because the dessert menu isn’t its own page, doesn’t mean it’s not worth a taste.

Parish Cafe
493 Massachusetts Ave.
Boston, MA
617-391-0501

Nearest T-stop: Mass. Ave on the Orange Line

Both sides of the isle

The Army women’s team sported pink laces when they took on the Naval Academy. (Creative Commons via Flickr)

It’s not just men’s sports hit with the investigations and scandals. The NCAA found issues with women’s teams at TSU in their evaluation of the athletic program, but two women’s basketball teams are facing heat in recent weeks.

Two weeks ago it was revealed that Ole Miss is looking into self imposing sanctions while the NCAA finishes its investigation into recruiting and academic issues. The NCAA is also looking into the firing of the coaching staff and the ineligibility of two players.

Women’s basketball is surely the most popular female sport with their March Madness tourney getting air time over other sports, but it’s not surprising their scandals are more swept under the rug by the media as the WNBA is often left playing while no know is paying attention.

Today, the NCAA followed-up at Eastern Michigan University and came down with the hammer on an investigation that’s two years old.

The Detroit Free Daily Press cited six violations for which the university will spend the next two years feeling the effects of:

Six areas of violations were identified as part of the university’s and NCAA’s investigations, covering a period from 2007-10: exceeding practice-hour limitations; violations regarding participation in weight training and conditioning in addition to basketball activities; violations regarding prospective student-athletes participating in organized workouts; exceeding preseason and postseason activity limits; failure of former coach AnnMarie Gilbert to promote an atmosphere of compliance and the athletic department’s failure to adequately monitor the women’s basketball program to ensure compliance with time limits and athletically related activities.