By now you’ve heard the outcry over the NCAA’s initial — though perhaps not final — ruling that Colgate freshman Nathan Harries is ineligible to play basketball this season. After graduating from high school, Harries served a two-year mission as a Mormon before playing in three Georgia Sports Leagues games this past summer at the Dunwoody Baptist Church outside Atlanta.
I’ll get to all that in a second, but first a note to aspiring writers. This is a pretty fair lede:
After bungling one of the more extreme cases of booster payoffs in collegiate sports history (Miami), letting a Heisman Trophy winner skate despite the fact he autographed items for sale at memorabilia shows (Johnny Manziel), and continuing to prove through actions and non-actions that the product has outgrown its office, the NCAA has picked the wrong time take a stand. Again.
With his participation in three church-league games, Harries ran afoul of the NCAA’s strictures on outside competition. Strict constructionists rejoice, because the decision here was correct. The rule is on the books, old-timers are chiming in to say everyone knows about it, the NCAA asked Harries if he had abided by it, and the young man acknowledged that he had not.
So let’s be clear on this. It is not a “bizarre decision.” It is a dumb rule. (Memo to old-timers: Just because a rule is really old doesn’t mean it’s not dumb. See also the foul-out.) Harries should be free to play in a church league or any other recreational league, because any advantage that he will thereby gain relative to Colgate’s opponents is inconsequential as long as the same opportunity is available to those opponents as well.
That would be true even if Harries weren’t a devout Mormon who had participated in the Model UN in high school and was elected to the National Honor Society. (That latter group, by the way, is a rather straightforwardly named body which Colgate nevertheless has somehow managed to misspell on Harries’ official bio page. Come on, Raiders, I thought you fancied yourselves a near-Ivy!) Indeed for our purposes the NCAA’s rule would be equally unnecessary if Harries were a skeptical Unitarian who played in a garage band and got straight Cs.
While it’s true that not every bad thing which occurs in the vicinity of college sports is the NCAA’s doing, this one is. Division I athletics are regulated and monitored right down to the last possession of the last game at the Dunwoody Baptist Church not because of any compelling need for such hyperactive surveillance, of course, but simply by virtue of a series of highly unlikely historical accidents.
Maybe the NCAA will change its ways, or perhaps it will simply be bypassed by heavy-hitting major-conference members who have at long last lost all patience. Either way, the current state of affairs is unlikely to continue much longer.
BONUS Final Four projection! There’s a silver lining in all this for Colgate. Dumb NCAA rules land with a thud all the time, naturally, but this particular one calls to mind a Syracuse case from long ago.
In 2002-03, the Orange played without Billy Edelin for 12 games because he participated in a four-on-four league against competition that included 50-year-olds. If anything this gave an unfair advantage to Syracuse’s opponents. After he returned from his suspension, Edelin had to have been shocked when the guy guarding him didn’t fall to the floor wheezing on the second possession.
The applicable bylaw really did and still does include verbiage that shall forever be known as the Edelin Clause: “…including competition involving teams with less than five players.” As a result the Orange had to make due early that season with a freshman named Gerry McNamara. The good news was that Jim Boeheim had another player on the roster who turned out to be pretty good, and Syracuse went on to win the national championship.
Clearly it was the fact that they’d been traduced by a dumb rule that put Cuse on a path to win it all. Colgate now inherits that advantage. See you in Arlington in April, Matt Langel!