In lieu of a night post tonight (nothing really happened all evening and I was out watching Monday Night Football), we will use this space to try and clear up the big question still on the minds of most in UK land, the upcoming decision on the eligibility of Enes Kanter. There has likely been no story in the past year or so not written by Pete Thamel (he screwed up the Bledsoe issue even worse) that has been more misunderstood than the situation with Enes Kanter. Part of that is due to the media coverage, but a large part of that is also due to general confusion on the rules at issue. The reality is that no one can really know with certainty what the NCAA will do on the Kanter situation. It is a new rule, being enforced by a new NCAA regime and it concerns a Top 5 recruit playing at the most high-profile program with the most high-profile coach in America. The variables are many and the likelihood of any media member who opines on the “percentage chance Kanter plays” doing anything but simply guessing out of the air is non-existent. Still there are some themes that should be remembered.
First, and most importantly, the issue in the Kanter case is not about whether he took money or a salary. This is the most common mistake and is the biggest problem created by last week’s New York Times story. The reality is that for those who are involved in the process, specifically the NCAA, UK and the Kanter family, there was nothing in the New York Times story that was new. Rather, the story simply gave those who are uninformed talking points that could lead them to incorrect conclusions. There is no dispute that Kanter took money from the Turkish club. While there is some question as to the exact amount taken, the amount itself isnt even the issue. The New York Times made a big deal about the money being over $100,000, but in reality that has little to do with the question confronting the NCAA. The issue is not the amount of money, but how and why the money was paid. When you hear those on PTI, Around the Horn or local talk radio say that Kanter wont play, it is because they dont understand the specifics of the NCAA or the question before the organization.
The issue with Kanter at this point is not whether he took money (he did) or whether he was given a salary (he was not). The question is whether the amount of money given for Enes Kanter for expenses was “excessive.” Kanter, as is the case with most players in the European system, was given money for expenses that related to his playing for the club team in Europe. Such expenses can be paid under NCAA rules without the loss of amateurism and the payment is similar to what kids receive who attend private schools or prep schools. For basis of comparison, an international student who plays at Oak Hill in Virginia is given a scholarship worth $31,000 a year and personal expenses up to $10,000. The NCAA sees such expenses paid by European teams to be similar, as the players play and learn in “basketball academies” that are the equivalent to prep schools in America. Kanter received such expenses and was given money for living expenses, food, transportation, etc.
The question for the NCAA is whether the money given was so “excessive” that it transferred the issue from one of expenses to something else that could demonstrate a “desire to be a professional.” The question is not an easy one for the NCAA to decipher. How does one determine how much money for living expenses is too much? If the Times article is correct and Kanter was given $6500 (this amount could be in dispute, but is the largest alleged by the Turkish team), will the NCAA that is too much for living in Istanbul (an apparently expensive city). Does the NCAA say that $1500 a month is too expensive for an apartment, that one type of car is too plush as opposed to another, that restaurant meals should have cost less and that clothing allowances were used for too expensive gear? One can see how “expenses” can be abused but one can also understand that the NCAA shouldnt really be in the business of micromanaging the expense sheets of foreign clubs that could potentially have odd (or fraudulent) accounting. The entire enterprise is sort of strange and one can understand why the NCAA would struggle to apply, especially in its first high profile case with Enes Kanter.
That last point is also one of the most important. Enes Kanter will be the first case under the new rule and will set the future NCAA precedent. After the New York Times story, there is now a lot of attention on what will be done and the idiot sportswriter segment will give their opinion on the decision, regardless of how uninformed. The NCAA thus has to make this decision not just for Kanter but with an eye on how they will apply it going forward. One has to assume the NCAA does not want to create a world where it determines how much a person needs to live in every city and what level of luxury kids in Eastern Europe are given by their professional clubs. Thus they could create a blanket rule in which a certain level of money is allowed and anything over that must be paid back in order to compete in an NCAA game. Regardless however, whatever decision is made by the NCAA will be made with an eye to the future and Kanter will only be part of the equation, although the most high-profile part.
With all that as a backdrop, most just want to know, will Kanter be eligible or not? The reality is no one knows, not the Kanters, not Calipari and maybe not even (at this point) the NCAA. The issue is a hard one and applying a new rule to these odd facts, combined with the cast of strange characters with the Turkish club, makes the decision unpredictable. But what should be remembered is what is actually in question. It doesnt matter that Kanter took money and it doesnt even really matter that he may have taken a sum that seems large to the average person. What matter is whether the money given for expenses will be deemed “excessive” by the NCAA. On that question, the NCAA has never previously ruled and predicting their decision is a fool’s game, albeit one that will determine the future of Kentucky’s team for 2010-2011.