Saturday, July 30, 2011

July 30, 2011
I am working for a national distribution for the previous post... there has been great demand for which I am grateful!

Today, though, just a brief snippet of another subject I am looking into; the broader problem of mentors and where they fit into NCAA guidelines.

The NCAA is keenly aware of mentors and their relationships with athletes. However, most of their literature is related to mentors and current athletes at member institutions. There is very little mention of them in their bylaws. This does not mean, however, that the NCAA is blind to them. As far back as 2002, the NCAA created a program to assist prominent 8th grade basketball players (top 50 in a region) receive proper guidance from Mentors. The program was called "The First Team" project, it was designed to help young athletes navigate the world of being a student athlete.

This program, however, was a basketball program. The hope was that the First Team Project would help to eliminate the very real problem of the "street agents" in basketball.

There are, of course, problems with this program. The biggest issue is identifying which kids are eligible. Many times, the 8th grade superstar may not be the one that needs help. Quite often there are those people who need help that maybe don't play AAU basketball.

Another issue with this program is that it takes young boys whole may already have a feeling that the rules of the rest of society do not apply to them. They have had everything handed to them already, now being "set aside" as special by the NCAA itself opens the pratfalls of engendering even more special treatment. But at least the NCAA gets to choose who mentors these kids. This gives a little bit of control and helps reduce the role and influence of what I call "clingons."

Football, though, has no such program... yet. They may someday in response to our current ongoing issues. The most notable "mentor" in college football right now is Ted Sarniak. Mr. Sarniak is a well known businessman in Terrelle Pryor's hometown of Jeanette, PA.

And his name might be important in Oregon's case as well.

As most are undoubtedly aware, the NCAA actually investigated Sarniak's relationship with Pryor back in 2008 when Pryor was beginning classes in September 2008. As a result of this investigation, the NCAA determined that Sarniak was not considered a "representative of athletics interests" for Ohio State.

There are many tht wonder why, then, he was prohibited from giving further gifts and benefits to Pryor. If, after all, he was deemed a legitimate "existing relationship" then he should have been permitted to continue whatever relationship they had prior to enrollment.

The NCAA, though, changes their stance on that relationship once a PSA enrolls at the university of his choice.

If you intend to mentor a current intercollegiate student-athlete with eligibility remaining, specific rules apply to you that do not apply to alumni athletes.

Representatives of Athletics Interests – What You Must Know: Under NCAA rules a "representative of the institution's athletics interests” (athletics representative/booster) is any individual who:

1. Made any type of contribution to a University or Athletic Department;
2. Joined a booster club or any sport specific support group;
3. Provided benefits (e.g., summer jobs or mentoring relationships) to prospective or enrolled student-athletes or their families;
4. Assisted, in any manner, in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes;
5. Participated as a varsity athlete at the University;
6. Is the parent or legal guardian of an enrolled student-athlete;
7. Promoted the athletics program in any way.

There is not a lot of clarity from the NCAA on this issue and the recent ruling does little to help our understanding. The problem with Mr. Sarniak and his relationship with Pryor was not their pre-existing relationship. As Terrelle's high school QB Coach once said:

"Teddy has done a lot for Terrelle, and Terrelle has done a lot for Teddy," said Ray Reitz, Pryor's former coach at Jeannette High School. "Terrelle is loved back here around Jeannette, and I think he and Coach Tressel have done a helluva job at Ohio State. He is a kid and has made mistakes, but there are some people that have wanted to see Terrelle fail since he left here."

The relationship between the two started before high school. The family sought his advice during the recruiting process. However, a mentor, by NCAA standards, is not someone who provides monetary gifts, gratuities or other benefits. He is someone that offers strong representational advice, counseling on academics, life choices, etc.

The reason, then, that Mr. Sarniaks relationship was approved, yet his role was limited to no gifts was simple, once Pryor became enrolled, his former employment of Pryor made him a representative of athletics interests; a booster. Once you are a booster, unless you are the parent or legal guardian, you are not permitted to give extra benefits to the athlete.

This is related to Oregon, I promise. There is a message that the NCAA recognized; mentors, prior to enrollment in the chosen University, serve a legitimate purpose. If the mentor/mentee relationship began prior to high school, then, pretty much, anything the mentor did is protected based on their prior relationship.

This is where it gets difficult to predict for Oregon as it is well known that Will Lyles did not have a relationship with Lache Seastrunk prior to 9th grade. The met in July 2008 at a Texas A&M camp where Lyles was working. A relationship developed that the NCAA may deem inappropriate. However, based on all records we have seen so far, no extra benefits were ever given to Lache Seastrunk by Will Lyles.

Then what we are left with is the possibility that Lyles will be deemed that aforementioned "representative;" a booster. The NCAA will surely look at the facts and determine that, while Lyles may have advised many young men, because he advised them toward several different schools, it is unlikely to determine he was a booster of any specific school.

I have an email in to Josephine Potuto a former NCAA Chair of the Committee on

Infractions to determine what constitutes a booster when discussing the mentor problem in college football. I do believe, however, that the ruling that the relationship was acceptable for Sarniak bodes well for Will Lyles' relationship with Lache and Lamichael James.

For the moment, this is mostly conjecture. The mine-field that is the mentor relationships in college football is very new and there is not a lot of public case precedent in the area.

Sarniak's relationship with Terrelle Pryor is the first public ruling regarding a mentor. Soon, we will likely have our second.


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