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SoCalHoops Recruiting News

Bobby Knight Is Back, And He's
Taking On The NCAA--(Apr. 3, 2001)

bobbyknight.gif (8490 bytes)Bobby Knight may be either the most reviled coach in all of college basketball, or he may be the smartest and keenest mind in the game whether on or off the court.  Whatever you may happen to think of Robert Montgomery Knight, if you are a potential college basketball recruit, you've just gotta love him given the news from Lubbock, Texas today.  While everyone else continues to stand in mute silence, facing eastward towards Indianapolis, er Mecca, Coach Knight refuses to lay down and roll over.  While others are busy genuflecting, or at least doing nothing about trying to change a bad rule, Bobby Knight is now threatening to take on the NCAA power brokers over one of the most controversial rules to come down the recruiting pike in the past year.  Forget limiting the summer viewing period, the real culprit is the "5-8" recruiting rule.   Under that rule, an NCAA Division I program is precluded from recruiting any more than 8 scholarship players during a two-year period, and more than 5 in any one year.    Of course the rule doesn't take into account what a coach is supposed to do when players jump ship for the NBA, flunk out, or violate team rules and have to be dismissed from the team.

The latter situation is just what has occurred in Lubbock, Texas in the past week.  Last week, just one week after being hired at Texas Tech, Coach Knight dismissed three scholarship players from the team.  He refused to discuss the reasons why they were dismissed.  But the bottom line is that with their dismissal, Texas Tech is now limited in the number of players it can recruit.

The Associated Press reported tonight that just four days after dismissing three players for undisclosed rules violations, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight announced at a press conference today that he'll challenge the NCAA rule preventing him from replacing those scholarship players on the squad. 

When the rule was first proposed by the NCAA Men's Issues Committee two years ago, and then approved by the Executive Council last year, it was intended to increase graduation rates and reduce attrition through non-renewal of grants-in-aid.  Stated simply, the NCAA Issues Committee felt that if coaches were limited in the number of recruits they could take in any given year, coaches would be discouraged from cutting players by not renewing their scholarships (remember, scholarships are only year-to-year. . .there's no such thing as a four-year scholarship, and coaches have discretion not to approve a renewal each year). 

Of course, with the total number of 13 maximum scholarships available, limiting scholarships in any given year to a maximum of 5 also has the concomittant effect of making scholarships just that much harder to come by for new incoming players, and this year's class of rising seniors (the Class of 2002) will likely feel the pinch most sharply, since a majority of NCAA schools last year signed the maximum of 5, thus leaving this year's rising seniors with far fewer scholarship opportunities than existed in prior years.   Likewise, the rule also fails to take into account how schools can replace those scholarship players who leave early for the NBA.

Well, leave it to Robert Montgomery Knight to take on this battle, and really, every recruit and coach out there ought to be watching this battle with avid interest since the outcome will affect thousands.  We won't make any secret about how we feel:  The rule is simply wrong-headed, and ought to be repealed.

So what's prompted the fight?  Well, to start with, this past week, Knight dismissed three scholarship players from the Texas Tech team.   He did this less than a week after being hired.  Knight refused to discuss why he kicked the players off the team a week after taking the Red Raiders' job. "They just needed to be dismissed, period. That's all," he said at his first full news conference at the school.

But the dismissals alone have not prompted the fight.   Texas Tech's prior NCAA probation also has played a role: Knight contends that the 5-and-8 bylaw will prevent the men's program from returning to a fair level of competition for several more seasons despite the fact that it's probation is supposed to end this year.   The Tech athletic department was investigated by the NCAA in 1997-98, and the resulting penalties against the men's basketball program included scholarship reductions from 1998-2001.  The Red Raiders played with seven fewer scholarships over three seasons than the 13 allowed.  Taking in to account the three players dismissed from the team, Texas Tech will only have four players on scholarship.  Yet if they are restricted under the 5-8 rule, and can thus only sign 5 scholarship athletes this year, they will effectively be limited to just 9 scholarships, rather than the full 13.  

Of course Knights critics would argue that he chose to limit the number of scholarships by dismissing three of the players, but Knight would obviously counter that the rule is entirely unfair because it would require that he retain players who either violated team rules or who were just unwilling to play for the current coach.  

At his press conference today, Knight also uttered a line which is sure to be quoted again and again, but which has a huge grain of truth:

"This rule doesn't exist in girls' basketball, which means the girls are a hell of a lot smarter than whoever put it in place for the guys," he said.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (the local paper in Lubbock, Texas) also covered the press conference and in a story by Randy Rosetta, carried some other interesting quotes from the Texas Tech compliance folks:

"This rule was not even contemplated when our punishment was handed down in 1998," Tech associate athletic director/compliance Shane Lyons said. "An infractions case is kind of like a contract agreement between two parties, where the NCAA creates some restrictions and the school agrees to abide under a certain set of rules. As we finish out the penalties placed on us, the rules have changed and we feel like the new standard puts us at a continued disadvantage.

"We're saying we don't agree with changing the rules in the middle of the game. We have fulfilled our obligation to the NCAA, and now we want the NCAA to allow us to get those two scholarships back. After that we will abide by whatever rule changes are in place. But we feel like we should be allowed to be back equal with everyone else."

When Knight was asked about the dismissal of Jamal Brown, Rodney Bass and Brannon Hayes, Knight responded with "Just because we needed to release them. Period."

Texas Tech will make its appeal to the NCAA immediately and Lyons said he expects a ruling within a week.  In the event of an adverse ruling, court action is possible, but that Lyons did not discuss that at the press conference.

The 5-8 rule has major implications for just about every program in the country, and this case will be closely watched by virtually every college recruiter at the Division I men's level.   And it ought to be:  In our discussions with college coaches throughout the year, we have yet to hear from a single college recruiter who actually believes the rule to be a good one;  most believe it is ill-advised, and ought to be re-thought, and the rest are just flatly opposed to it, believing it only further ties coaches' hands, preventing them from doing their jobs.   

Maybe one day we'll all be thanking Robert Montgomery Knight. . . who knows, stranger things have happened.

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