Former Pitt basketball coach Kevin Stallings broke NCAA rules by having non-coaches, specifically director of basketball operations Dan Cage and assistant to the head coach Matt Woodley, participate in practices in a coaching role.
Pitt was aware of the violations while Stallings was still head coach of the team. The university admitted that much in the NCAA’s report on the investigation announced on Thursday, saying that the administration first became aware of possible violations in the fall of 2017.
The violations that occurred — non-coaching members of the staff taking part in coaching activities — have to be among the most common of NCAA violations. I can’t sit here and say that all 350-some Division I teams break this rule, but I would be patently surprised if more don’t than do.
Does anyone really think that schools are paying dozens and dozens of extra assistants above and beyond the NCAA limit, only for them to lock themselves in their offices during practice and not actually do anything?
No one could be so gullible.
So yes, Pitt broke a rule that a lot of other people are also probably breaking. But why are the Panthers going on probation when this is such a common violation?
Signs point to the messy divorce with Stallings.
According to the settlement with the NCAA, Pitt first became aware of the violations in the fall of 2017, became more suspicious when discovering deleted practice footage in February 2018 and conducted an investigation beginning in March 2018 before Stallings was fired.
Stallings claimed in his interview with investigators that he felt a “fractured relationship” with athletics director Heather Lyke.
It sure seems that Pitt’s interest in what and how many violations Stallings was committing became a lot more earnest when Pitt decided that it was going to move on from him as head coach after two years.
That also jives with what happened after Stallings was fired, when Pitt reportedly tried to fire Stallings for cause. The sides eventually settled, but I’m sure NCAA violations would have been useful for Pitt if it wanted to make that case in court.
It’s telling that the largest punishments were doled out to Stallings and Cage, while Jeff Capel’s team will endure a minor loss of coaching practice time and Narduzzi, who essentially committed the same violation Stallings did, missed one week of recruiting and will miss two days of preseason practice.
Here we come to the part that makes everyone look bad.
Schools know what the extra assistants are for. They aren’t spending precious coaching salary money on someone that’s not going to have any effect on the outcome for the programs. The coaches breaking the rules, the head coaches benefitting from it and the schools looking the other way are all equal partners in crime.
The NCAA itself can’t even really care. Can you imagine how much worse the overall student-athlete experience would be it every school fired all those extra assistants? They’re helping players get better and helping teams provide a better experience. It’s a net positive.
The only time anyone seems to really care is when they think it can save them or get them money.
In the same time frame Pitt was running Stallings off, UConn self-reported violations and attempted to fire Kevin Ollie for cause. Ollie fought the school for his buyout and ended up with a three-year show cause of his own regarding relatively minor recruiting violations.
Michigan State is currently being sued by former recruiting coordinator Curtis Blackwell, who alleges that he was told to commit NCAA violations by then-head football coach Mark Dantonio. Blackwell is suing Michigan State after he was fired in 2017 amidst the cover up of sexual assault allegations of three football players.
Look, I don’t care that Cage and Woodley coached Pitt’s basketball players. They’re basketball coaches. It’s no surprise that they coached. Pitt didn’t care when it hired basketball coaches to perform jobs that allegedly prevent them from coaching.
The NCAA doesn’t really seem to care, either, almost always only taking action when schools self-report or things become public through lawsuits or media investigations.
I can guarantee fans don’t care. They just want their teams to win. (Speaking of which, that extra coaching didn’t seem to help Pitt much.)
But it’s a bad look for everyone involved when people suddenly start to care in order to avoid writing a check.
If the rules are more frequently being used to screw coaches out of their buyouts or as leverage for wrongful termination lawsuits than they are to perform their legitimate purpose, it’s a problem.
They’re supposed to prevent large-budget teams from having an unfair advantage over small-budget teams. But having two or 10 more coaches isn’t going to provide more of an advantage than the built-in ones those schools already possess.
It adds up to a bad rule, being used for disingenuous ends. The NCAA would be better off letting the coaches coach and putting an end to the nonsense.