As baffling as James Dolan's decision was to rehire the man who ran his franchise into the ground a few short years ago, that isn't the only surprising aspect of Isiah Thomas joining the New York Knicks as a part-time consultant.
Equally puzzling is that the NCAA is allowing Thomas to continue coaching at Florida International while simultaneously working for an NBA franchise.
At a time when Boise State coaches can't even offer condolences to the family of a deceased recruit without facing NCAA punishment, the organization apparently sees no competitive advantage in a coach receiving a paycheck from an NBA team. The NCAA says it won't step in to prevent Thomas from working for the Knicks even though the franchise admitted in a press release on Friday that one of Thomas' duties will be "player recruitment."
Under this unique arrangement, Thomas would be in position to promise potential top recruits that he'll recommend them to the Knicks if they agree to play for him at FIU. Furthermore, he'll have the chance to advise FIU players whether or not to leave school early, a potential violation of NBA rules that forbid league personnel from having contact with players who haven't formally entered the draft.
Granted FIU didn't exactly have a wealth of NBA-caliber talent on its roster during Thomas' 7-25 debut season, but that hasn't stopped the second-year coach from recruiting potential future pros. Four-star power forward Dominique Ferguson is one of FIU's incoming freshmen next season, while the Golden Panthers were among the finalists for Rakeem Christmas before the five-star center chose Syracuse on Friday.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said Friday that Thomas first approached him with the idea of taking the Knicks' consulting gig a few weeks ago. Although Garcia acknowledged that the arrangement was "unprecedented," he insisted that neither he nor the NCAA had any concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
"The Knicks recognize Isiah is a commodity," Garcia said. "If the Knicks want Isiah as a consultant, we're good with that. If President Obama wants Isiah as a consultant, we're good with that."
Garcia added that he doesn't expect Thomas to spend any less time on his FIU duties because he's "very organized" and "a workaholic."
NCAA spokeswoman Jennifer Royer emailed the following statement on Friday when asked whether her organization had any concerns about Thomas' arrangement.
"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."
What the NCAA may be doing by taking that stance is opening another loophole for coaches to exploit. If Thomas' consulting role with the Knicks helps FIU secure an extra recruit or two, how long will it take Bruce Pearl to ask for a similar role with the Memphis Grizzlies or Billy Donovan to hire a Miami Heat scout as his director of basketball operations?
Amazingly enough, the NBA may end up being the organization that forces Thomas to choose between FIU and the Knicks. Since the hire could violate league rules that forbid college coaches from having jobs with NBA teams, the league is looking into it, spokesman Tim Frank told the Associated Press.
"We are reviewing the agreement, in consultation with the Knicks, for compliance with league rules," he said.