New rule could hurt coaches, recruits

Jermaine Sanders isn’t allowed to attend St. John’s.

Not because of insufficient grades or his parents wanting the Rice High standout to leave the distractions commonly associated with New York.

The NCAA has made the decision for him.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Sanders said. “That’s where I really want to go. That’s where I would go — if I could.”

But Sanders isn’t able to because of a new rule the NCAA implemented this offseason in an attempt to limit “package deals.”

The rule states that “during a two-year period before a prospective student-athlete’s anticipated enrollment and a two-year period after the student-athlete’s actual enrollment, an institution shall not employ an individual associated with the prospective student-athlete in any athletics department noncoaching staff position.”

New St. John’s coach Steve Lavin hired Moe Hicks, who coached Sanders at Rice and is also the coach of the Gauchos’ summer program, in June as the director of basketball operations — a “noncoaching staff position.”

It means that Sanders is basically off-limits to the school. It also means if a kid like Richard Council — who also attends Rice, plays with the Gauchos and has attracted interest from schools such as Drexel — plays well enough to warrant merit from St. John’s, he couldn’t do anything about it.

“It’s somewhere I wouldn’t mind going. I’d definitely go if they offered me a scholarship,” Council said. “It’s crazy. Not fair at all that we get affected just because he’s at St. John’s.”

Lavin knew this was the case when he hired Hicks, whose résumé includes coaching at Rice for the past 16 years.

“This well-intended NCAA legislation is on point, but clearly the strict interpretation or application of the rule will lead to some unintended and unfortunate outcomes,” Lavin said. “In particular, the most likely to be adversely affected by the rule is a certain number of high school players, high school coaches and individuals who have chosen careers in college basketball.”

Lavin, beyond referring to players such as Sanders (who he is unable to comment on), is also talking about coaches looking to break into the Division I ranks who have become nearly unhireable due to their connection with recruits.

Take any young assistant coach for a high school, AAU or even junior college program that consistently churns out D-I players. Few — if any — coaches will consider hiring them because then the players become off-limits for the next two years.

Phil Gaetano’s first Division I scholarship offer came via the University of Hartford.

But the Connecticut native wasn’t able to accept because new Hartford coach John Gallagher brought on Brian Glowiak as his director of basketball operations.

You see, Glowiak is a former player at Hartford who worked with the Connecticut Basketball Club AAU program in the summer since graduating in 2008 and then coached Gaetano for a couple months.

“As a parent, this is ridiculous,” said Joe Gaetano, Phil’s father and also the coach at Sheehan High in Conn. “My son isn’t a high-profile recruit. He just wants to play Division I basketball and has worked hard to earn that.”

But it won’t come at Hartford.

The NCAA had the right intentions when it came to this rule — as it often does. In this case, it was to cut down the number of package deals that have been in place over the years.

It’s gone on seemingly forever — back to when Danny Manning and his father, Ed, came to Kansas, when John Calipari hired Milt Wagner with Dajuan at Memphis and even more recently, had Ronnie Chalmers being hired with his son, Mario, at Kansas.

But there’s also an unintended consequence.

“I understand the big picture and why the rule is in place, but how is this fair?” Joe Gaetano asked. “I kind of feel like the victim here.”

While it certainly appears that this is a rule waiting to be challenged and even overturned, it may never come to that because of several factors.

Take Kadeem Jack, for example.

He’s a highly touted big man out of New York who played for the Gauchos — one of the elite AAU programs in the country and one that was run by Hicks.

“I like St. John’s,” Jack said. “It’s always good to go where you know a familiar face.

“While I don’t think it’s right, some people, on the other hand, have obviously taken advantage and the NCAA feels that it’s necessary to put in this rule.”

Jack could fight the NCAA, but he has plenty of other high-major options. Sanders also has a handful of other Big East offers in addition to St. John’s.

“The NCAA may be on pretty good ground,” said Atlanta-based attorney Stuart Brown. “Plus, who’s going to have the time and money to fight it?”

Probably no one.

By the time anyone goes through the process to challenge the rule, which could take a year or so, it’ll likely drag well past the deadline for freshman enrollment, anyway.

“Nine times out of 10, the NCAA will win,” added Ronald Katz, another lawyer. “But some of their rules are arbitrary and capricious.”

And it’s not as if the rule eliminates package deals, anyway.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd hired former Heat Academy coach Jason Niblett as a full-time assistant coach. The news came shortly after the Miners signed Michael Haynes and Desmond Lee, who both came from Heat Academy.

But that’s entirely legal.

So, in essence, it forces coaches to put coaches in full-time assistant spots in which they aren’t necessarily qualified to occupy in order to be able to sign players with ties.

Now, there’s no transition for these coaches to adjust and learn.

Or you just hire a guy in a noncoaching spot and take the hit — as Louisville coach Rick Pitino did when he hired Monsignor Pace High (Fla.) coach Mark Lieberman as his director of basketball operations.

Then again, Monsignor Pace doesn’t have any guys that Pitino would recruit until 2013, anyway, when a big-time player named Maquedious Bain would be fair game because the two-year period would conclude.

Baylor’s Scott Drew did it when he brought on Jared Nuness, who came from John F. Kennedy High in Minnesota, as the director of video and operations. But it’s not as if Nuness was tied into a bunch of high-level recruits.

“I like the rule because everyone is on the same playing field,” Drew said. “We all know what the rule is. Before, some schools could have eight or nine guys in operations positions, and it was an unfair advantage for certain schools.”

College coaches, for the most part, aren’t the ones hurt by the rule, though.

“It just doesn’t seem right,” Sanders said.

For some, it is. But not for Sanders.