This week, Illini Report received a compendium of all NCAA violations recorded during the John Groce Era. There’s one big surprise. More on that next week.
Most of the violations arose through ignorance or stupidity, and mostly ignorance. That is, the “perpetrators” weren’t aware that they were committing violations, because the rules are so stupid.
Today’s story is about a rule that’s only slightly stupid, a perpetrator who is not ignorant, and policy that’s downright idiotic.
The culprit was James Haring, erstwhile Director of Basketball Operations. The crime: reserving hotel rooms.
For the first five contests of the season (exhibitions with Wash U & Lewis; and games with SEMO, No. Kentucky & McKendree) Kipper Nichols and Drew Cayce were housed, along with the rest of the team, in one of the hotels near State Farm Center (i-Hotel at First & St. Mary’s, or the Hawthorne Suites, Homewood Suites or Hilton Garden Inn at Neil & Kirby.
That’s a violation of NCAA Bylaw 16.8.1.
There’s no particular NCAA rule about transfers staying in hotel rooms before home games. The NCAA never contemplated such a stupid policy. Why would teams pay to lodge players twice for the same night? Their apartments are literally 1200 yards away.
But because Nichols and Cayce were transfers waiting a “year in residence,” they’re not allowed travel expenses. In order to receive competition-related expenses, the student-athlete must be eligible for competition. It’s the reason Rayvonte Rice never traveled with the team during his first year on campus, unless he could get there on his own dime (Braggin’ Rights, or the United Center game, for example).
James Haring is not stupid. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of West Virginia, where he worked for Brad Underwood’s old boss, Huggie Bear. Moreover, he knows the minutiae that DOBOs must contemplate each time they make an outlay. Player per diems, for example were as follows for the 2016-17 season.
In-State/Out of State Breakfast $5.50/$6.50 Lunch $5.50/$6.50 Dinner $17.00/$19.00
Haring also knows the rule capping an MBB traveling squad at 15 players. (He says it’s a Big Ten rule, rather than the NCAA.) This came up in a conversation earlier this year, when I realized that Samson Oladimeji wasn’t on a road trip, and hadn’t been all year.
I asked Oladimeji about it, and he didn’t know why he didn’t travel with the team. James Haring did know: This year’s Illini roster included 17 players. Someone had to stay behind.
Nichols finished his “year in residence” in December, about the same time Oladimeji became an official member of the team. As the last to join, Samson was also the last in line for a room. So Cayce never stayed in a hotel for the rest of the season, Nichols returned to the hotel regimen when he becamse eligible, and Oladimeji never stayed in a hotel, period.
That’s pretty much the end of Haring’s whimsical violation of NCAA rules, apart from the unfortunate Letter of Admonishment added to his employee file.
But his loss is our gain, because the report it begat shines a spotlight on the terrible policy of locking up players in hotel rooms.
The men’s basketball program spent, according to the NCAA filing posted above, an average of $43.11 per player, per night, to stay in a Champaign hotel room prior to those first five contests.
That figure may reflect the average cost for every game this year, but not necessarily. Rates fluctuate with the market, and the team had no fixed rate agreement with any of the four hotels.
For the 21 home contests this year, assuming the $43.11 rate were static, that’s $13,579.65 to house the team in rooms literally visible from their own West Quad apartments. Add $2,586.60 for the four games played within a short driving distance (Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern and the annual United Center game). The team flies to Iowa. Why sleep there, too?
Spokesman Kent Brown points out:
No other teams do this. Football has done this for decades. Men’s basketball only started this recently. It’s a coach’s decision, but would need to come out of their budgets.
The idea behind housing a football team is that you can’t trust a football team to do the right thing. They’re football players, after all. If you don’t lock them up, drunken rape and pillaging is the inevitable outcome.
Under John Groce, basketball players couldn’t be trusted either, at least not by John Groce. Remember that time Aaron Cosby and Rice snuck out of their hotel room to see the town? In that case, the town was Minneapolis. They were both injured at the time (Rice’s broken hand, Cosby’s detached retina — neither of which happened because they went sight-seeing), and wouldn’t have played against the Gophers anyway.
After that, Groce imposed the policy for home games, too.
James Haring, far left, was a grad assistant in 2014-15. Rayvonte Rice & Aaron Cosby were suspended for this game, despite both being injured anyhow.
The problem with imprisoning the players two nights per week is not just that it treats them like criminals. It’s also that they’re not likely to get a great night’s sleep in unfamiliar surroundings. By imposing road-game conditions on his team, Groce took away one of the great advantages of home games — being at home.
The Homewood Suites are 1200 yards from West Quad. And although Tyler Griffey once said he enjoyed the jacuzzi there (as a freshman, he was housed there during semester break when the dorms closed), the train still goes by just as often, if 20 seconds earlier than it passes West Quad.
“That’s the only bad thing I can think of” Maverick Morgan said of West Quad’s proximity to the train when the team first moved into its new digs at Oak & John Streets. “It’s as close as everyone thinks it is.”
Here at 4:44
Maybe that’s why John Groce’s teams lost so many games. Over the course of five years, they never got a good night’s sleep.
Stay tuned to Illini Report for more kvetching about minor NCAA violations, and the mundane stories they spawn. Next week.
Fans of James Haring, which include most people he’s ever met, will be glad to know that he’s pursuing opportunities in college basketball. His DOBO position will be occupied by Underwood associate Joey Biggs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be leaving the DIA.