This isn’t about the kids. It never is. It never was.
Of course, in the wake of a booster “scandal” which saw Indiana University men’s basketball freshmen Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin suspended for nine games for receiving impermissible benefits from a Hoosier “booster” named Mark Adams, the NCAA doesn’t want you to realize this.
They don’t mind if you question the loose terms—booster, scandal, benefits—that come with their own set of quotation marks so as to showcase the discrepancy between the NCAA rulebook and the common logic that governs mankind.
They don’t mind if you rant on message boards, or furiously dial in to talk-radio programs. After all, what’s new on that front? If it’s not an eligibility scandal, it’s a criticism of a playoff system or rule emphasis anyway.
They don’t mind the tweets and columns and 30-second blurbs on sports-debate programs. Par for the course, they figure. Just another day with a target on their backs, with Jay Bilas aiming for the bullseye.
So, IU players ineligible, expenses wrong ONLY because Adams bought an IU sticker before they were born? That's a "threat to integrity?!"— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) November 7, 2012
I hope further investigation doesn't reveal Adams purchased a soft drink in an IU souvenier cup. That could mean the season for the players.— Jay Bilas (@JayBilas) November 7, 2012
But there is one thing the NCAA does mind. There is one thing that terrifies them, that they’ll desperately steer you away from. Consider it their Roswell, the body buried in a shallow grave adjacent to their backyard garden shed.
The NCAA does not care about the kids. They never have. Barring revolution, they never will.
It’s easy to read a headline and assume, and that’s precisely what the NCAA hopes you do. For a basketball program that was brought to its knees by Kelvin Sampson’s smartphone, this is an easy story to write if you barely glance past the byline.
Recruiting scandal. Ineligible benefits. Prohibited incentive to play ball. Run the spell check, and happy hour is just a train ride away.
Of course, if you dig deeper, you soon find that this is hardly a cut-and-dry case of rulebook governance.
This is a story, after all, that dates back to 1986. Adams, an IU alumni, made donations to the Indiana Varsity Club in the amount of $185 from 1986 to 1992. The purpose of the donations? A series of checks written by his wife over a seven-year span to pay for—you guessed it, the NCAA’s worst nightmare—bumper stickers.
Seriously. IU alumni bumper stickers.
Adams would go on to create A-HOPE in 2004, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing, per its web site, “deserving student athletes a seamless process of obtaining a student visa” and “an opportunity to receive an outstanding education.”
That’s where Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin enter the picture.
Mosquera-Perea, who heralds from Istmina, Colombia, and Jurkin, who arrived in the United States by way of Juba, South Sudan, obtained visas through the A-HOPE foundation in order to pursue athletic and scholastic opportunities in the United States.
Both players joined the Indiana Elite AAU basketball program and were coached by Adams. Mosquera-Perea ended up playing at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., with Adams claiming guardianship, while Jurkin became a product of United Faith Christian Academy in Charlotte, N.C.
Because the NCAA retroactively deemed Adams an IU booster, and because Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin enrolled at Indiana University and joined the men’s basketball team, these players were viewed to have received impermissible benefits through Adams’ A-HOPE foundation. Benefits such as: school laptops, food, clothing and various living expenses.
You know, the kind of stuff that really sways opinion these days, binders and Trapper Keepers. The kind of stuff these kids didn't have when they came over the United States, and shouldn't have ever had, according the NCAA, who must believe wearing a burlap sack and etching long division on slate rock should have sufficed.
As such, Mosquera-Perea and Jurkin have been suspended for nine games each and ordered to pay back money from the impermissible benefits they are said to have received. Jurkin must repay $250, whereas Mosquera is apparently on the hook for $1,590.
Oh, but the NCAA is asking them to repay these amounts to a charity of the players’ choice. So it’s all for the greater good and all. The NCAA: building a better world one bylaw bank robbery at a time.
So what’s the real punishment here? Who is really paying the price? What’s the real intent?
The NCAA would have you believe their decision—surely spawned from the white smoke of the Vatican’s papal conclave—was a necessary strike in maintaining systemic integrity.
Because we all know prenatal bumper stickers serve as a bona fide threat to the integrity of our intercollegiate athletics system.
But what about the benefits, you ask? All this talk about bumper stickers, but weren’t the benefits impermissible? How do you defend that?
Pretty easy. If Adams isn’t viewed as a booster, they aren’t impermissible.
If Adams is just viewed as the founder of A-HOPE and a man trying to make a difference in the lives of ambitious young men seeking a chance for a better life than their home country may allow, a chance for a better education and more possibilities upon earning a college degree, we’re not even having this conversation.
If he’s viewed as a booster, though, game over, man. Game over.
So when Adams was deemed a booster in light of his seven-year, $185 commitment to bumper stickers before Mosquera-Perea or Jurkin were even born, this became a concern in the eyes of the NCAA.
A concern which will cost two 18-year-olds something beyond just money: opportunity. And a concern that will set a damaging precedent for coaches seeking to help children obtain valuable academic opportunities through college athletics.
How is this in the best interest of the student-athletes?
These players are being punished because someone bought bumper stickers back in 1986. Really. It is that absurd. If this sticky transaction had never taken place, NCAA bylaw 13.2.1 would have never been invoked, and these players would be suiting up.
Instead, they’re sitting down and paying up.
Hoosiers coach Tom Crean can’t understand it. How could he? The NCAA is about as transparent as a nugget of volcanic rock dunked in an inkwell and tossed down a bottomless pit—presumably, the same abyss from which the NCAA draws its multitude of illogical, disorganized and inconsistent rulings and precedents.
I suppose, by some absurd letter of the most microscopic law, the NCAA is “right” here. And, hey, I’m sure they’ll break their arms trying to pat their backs in the process of telling you that.
Indiana University will appeal this absurd ruling, but don’t expect much to change. We’re more likely to see Donald Trump cutting rugs with Barack Obama at a Democratic fundraiser than ever witness the NCAA second-guessing itself.
No matter how you tell this story, no matter how many bylaws you recite or threats to integrity you claim, the end result will always be this: An IU alum bought bumper stickers before two basketball players were born. As a result, those players are now suspended and being forced to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars.
(And on a side note, does anyone want to explain to me where an 18-year-old student-athlete who needed living expenses compensated to afford his journey to the United States has a spare thousand dollars laying around?)
At the end of the day, the kids are punished. And for what? For what greater good? What message does the NCAA send out here? Don’t buy stickers? Don’t offer opportunities for kids to improve their plot in life?
There is only one message being sent here, but it’s a message the NCAA doesn’t want you to decode: The NCAA doesn’t care about the kids. It never has. And it never will.