NCAA flexes muscle by ridiculously reprimanding UConn for Mo'ne Davis call

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

If all you believe in is a rulebook, then all you see are violations – which is a way of applying the old hammer/nail analogy to the NCAA.

There are plenty of good people working in college athletics, including the central office in Indianapolis, and they often bristle and complain the American public and their own current and former athletes increasingly hold them in such disdain.

Then they go about things like dinging University of Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma for talking for two minutes on the phone with Little League World Series hero Mo'ne Davis, congratulating her on her success and encouraging her for the future.

It was just a secondary violation, no real penalty involved, but that isn't even the point. The point is this was any type of violation, and that some pious and pathetic rival actually turned in UConn for it, and that it was investigated at all.

This is only a deal (big or little) if you are so consumed with a rulebook that only makes sense inside the amateurism/level-playing-field-obsessed bubble of college athletics.

The NCAA cited Geno Auriemma with a secondary rules violation. (AP)
The NCAA cited Geno Auriemma with a secondary rules violation. (AP)

That you can't see the academic fraud for the phone calls.

Davis was America's darling last month, the girl pitcher striking out boy after boy in Williamsport. She's from Philly, also plays basketball and said one day she wants to suit up for Auriemma, another Philadelphia native, and his Huskies.

Auriemma has never seen the eighth-grader play basketball. He isn't recruiting her. He hasn't extended a scholarship. No one has any idea at all if she would one day be good enough to play college ball, let alone for the nine-time (or who knows how many by then) national champions.

According to the Hartford Courant, a friend of Auriemma's reached out to him about Mo'ne's affinity for UConn and thought it'd be cool if he passed along a message via the Little League. Apparently this is legal, or according to the Courant, the UConn compliance office approved it.

Yet when Auriemma called the communications office in Williamsport to leave the message, Mo'ne Davis was in the room. The phone was handed over. They talked for two minutes.

This was the most prominent women's sports coach (Auriemma also leads the U.S. Olympic team) encouraging the most prominent girl athlete in the country. It's a cool thing.

At least, that's how a sane person would look at it.

Davis is young enough that this is allowable in some interpretations of the NCAA rules.

The fact there could be more than one interpretation is itself ridiculous, of course. The book is so confusing that it's conveniently hatched an entire industry of professional compliance directors schools must pay to assure players don't ever receive anything – an act of circular logic that, in turn, bloats department budgets, which allows them to cry poor and thus incapable of paying the players themselves.

Davis said she was sad about the UConn violation. (AP)
Davis said she was sad about the UConn violation. (AP)

Ohio State has 13 fulltime compliance staffers. Thirteen. That's how out of control the rules have become.

As for the confusion, the Courant reported the NCAA decided to view Davis as a special case as a potential basketball recruit because of her success and fame as a baseball player, which doesn't make sense either but, really, who knows?

Actually, who cares?

This is the rabbit hole of sub-bylaws all bureaucracies want to go down, while tsk-tsk'ing that rules are rules. In this case, it was Bylaw 13.1.3.1.

The NCAA doesn't just have too many rules; it has too many people obsessed with those rules who, in turn, keep writing more rules. It has too many coaches and administrators who see everything as a recruiting advantage that needs to be curbed or eliminated. It has too many compliance folks who think nothing is just a nice gesture.

And in women's basketball, it's worth noting, it has too many people who are overwhelmed with pettiness over Auriemma's incredible success and the seeming ease in which he corrals so many of the best players in the country.

So a complaint was made. An investigation followed. And now Auriemma and Davis are somehow violating "the rules."

Should Auriemma have known better? Maybe, if you think it's better that he hang up on a 13-year-old kid.

Sometimes a phone call is just a phone call.

The NCAA is teetering on the brink of relevance and college sports is under assault from legal and political challenges.

The problem isn't Geno Auriemma talking to Mo'ne Davis, though. It's the organization's own constant violations of common sense that will eventually do it in.

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