Illini basketball

NCAA’s 30-mile rule: Why?

Over the past four years, Patrick Smith attended more Illini games than many parents. Most of the time, he didn’t pay for tickets.

Apart from an executive position at Ameren, Smith was the coach of the Southwest Illinois Jets AAU basketball team. His prized pupil was Malcolm Hill.  Malcolm’s mother Machanda came to all the games. Malcolm Sr. attended a good number. A couple of uncles made it now and then. But most of the time, one of Malcolm’s NCAA-allotted four complimentary admissions went to Smith.

Smith was eligible to receive a free pass directly from the school, too. And that was useful during the recruiting process, because only active roster players get the four freebies.

But curiously, free admission is available only within 30 miles of campus. So in December 2012, when Smith accepted free admission to watch Braggin’ Rights with high school senior Malcolm Hill, he unknowingly triggered a secondary infraction.

Jason Heggemeyer

Jason Heggemeyer is the guy responsible for the violation, and also the person who reported it.  Heggemeyer is the Illinois Associate Director of Athletics for Ticketing, Sales & Customer Service. He travels with the basketball team, sets up a table or a booth in the bowels of various stadia, and keeps the list of admittees (usually family) who attend away games. But Braggin’ Rights isn’t considered an “away game.” In even-numbered years, it’s considered an Illini “home game.” In odd-numbered years, it’s a Mizzou “home game.” That’s why you hear of Illini recruits only in even-numbered years.

In 2012, Heggemeyer simply didn’t know the rule. In 2013, his counterpart at Mizzou explained it to him while they jointly prepared for that year’s game.

It’s not clear when Heggemeyer’s initial report was filed. The case documentation says it was December 22, 2012, which was actually the day the violation occurred.

But the bulk of the action took place in February of 2014, just as Malcolm Hill was starting to earn some tick. (He was averaging 12 minutes and 3.8 points per game as of February 19). As the investigation unfolded, Hill was declared ineligible to play. He would not be reinstated until Patrick Smith reimbursed the school for the “impermissible gift.”

Malcolm Hill and some familiar faces at the 2012 Braggin’ Rights game.


So on February 21, 2014 Smith cut a check for $105. Fortunately, he can afford it. Malcolm was reinstated in time for the Nebraska game on the 26th, and he scored 10 points.

The long-running adage about AAU coaches is that they receive money from college programs. Scurrilous bagmen distribute cash in exchange for access to recruits. That’s how the story goes, anyhow. You never hear about schools demanding money from AAU coaches.

Why 30 miles you ask? Because it’s the NCAA! Arbitrary rules are their specialty.

Patrick Smith is an amiable man. But you can imagine how an AAU coach might react to the news that a school was reneging on its offer of free admission.  If such a demand for payment came before his star player signed a National Letter of Intent, it would be in his financial interest to steer that recruit away from that school.

The 30-mile rule presents a recruiting disadvantage to schools located outside major metropolitan areas. In the Big Ten, that’s most schools. Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern and Maryland are the exceptions.

Illinois plays at least one game every year in St. Louis and Chicago because that’s where all the people live, including basketball players and their coaches.  Northwestern needn’t worry about the 30-mile rule for Chicago-based events. SLU is safe in St. Louis. But neither Illinois nor Mizzou can ever provide the same hospitality to AAU or high school coaches in the metro areas where most of them live.

Travis Ford can foist the Vatican’s limitless hospitality budget toward gladhanding the myriad coaches who live within easy driving distance of the Billikens campus. Brad Underwood can offer free admission, but Metro East coaches must drive five hours  to receive it.

So to the extent that buttering AAU and high school coaches helps with recruiting, schools in big cities hold an advantage. East Coast Bias may be real. Rural discrimination certainly is.

Illini basketball

What’s the NCAA’s beef with Trent Frazier?

What’s Trent Frazier’s beef with the NCAA? The answer is “Portillo’s.”

On August 19, 2016, the University of Illinois men’s basketball program committed an NCAA recruiting violation when Dustin Ford, Jamall Walker and Paris Parham drove Frazier and his parents from O’Hare Airport to Portillo’s Hot Dogs, and bought them some dinner.

[Courtesy of Matt Colin]
The Fraziers’ flight from Florida had been delayed, significantly. The three Illini coaches hopped into a car and drove from Champaign to O’Hare, knowing the Fraziers would miss the last connecting flight to Willard Airport, and not wanting them to be stranded.

The coaches met the Fraziers and Trent’s high school coach Matt Colin at baggage claim, just as everyone learned the bags would be delayed too, by about 45 minutes. Colin and the Fraziers hadn’t eaten in seven hours.

So everyone got in the car and drove the 7.6 miles to the corner of Dempster & Western, in Niles (not 6.6 miles to the Portillo’s at Busse & Greenleaf in Elk Grove Village, mind you).

They were in the restaurant for 15 to 20 minutes (significant). Then they went back to the airport, collected their bags,  and drove to Champaign.

It was about 1:30 a.m. when the Frazier entourage finally checked-in at the i-Hotel.

Transportation, lodging and meals are all legit expenses for Official Visit purposes. So why was this $80.29 impermissible? Because the NCAA is the second-dumbest organization in the world.

Meals are okay. Transportation is okay. But meals during transportation? That invokes a particular sub-chapter. It’s okay, but only if the food is carry-out.


IF you sit down while you’re eating, if you’re not trying to swallow that delicious dipped, hot & sweet gooey mess while in motion, the NCAA has sees red.

The other “problem” with this series of events, judged using the demented logic of the NCAA, is how it affected the imaginary clock which times an Official Visit. That clock can’t or does start to pretend-tick based on particular triggering events, like proximity to campus.

I’d explain the rule further, but nobody really understands it. You wouldn’t understand it. I don’t.

Because the flight was delayed, the Fraziers were expected to fend for themselves in an unfamiliar city <–or–> because they arrived on campus so late in the day, they should have paid for their hotel. There’s a magical hour at which the feisty, opinionated little clock prefers to wait ’til morning to begin pretend-ticking.

That’s the NCAA’s logic.

On the other hand, the NCAA doesn’t especially care whether this impermissible benefit is granted or not. If it did, there would be penalties. Instead, a letter of admonishment went into John Groce’s file (perhaps because he was the only staff member not present?) and the three assistant coaches all got some extra training. (What was that training? We don’t know. Let’s assume it took fewer than 90 seconds to convey.)

Trent Frazier’s eligibility was not affected. His parents were not forced to repay the university for the strawberry shortcake, small fries or beeves.*

In the end, some work was generated for administrators and administrative assistants, some of whom will still have jobs if Bruce Rauner and Mike Madigan ever agree to pass a budget.


*In reading the receipt, you’ll be surprised to find that no one ordered a combo.



Illini basketball

Jamall Walker – Driving Mr. Jackson

Episode 2 of Infractions From The Groce Era.

Here’s another story of the NCAA and its silly rules.

On August 30th 2012,  Jamall Walker drove Demetrius Jackson & Quron Marks 208 miles from their home in Mishawaka, Indiana to Champaign.  It was a Thursday.

Unfortunately (?) Quron Marks was a high school athlete.  That means, as far as the NCAA is concerned, that he was a prospect. Driving him to campus was an NCAA violation.

Jackson’s adoptive family, the Whitfields, came to town on Saturday, September 1st, and watched some of the football game against Western Michigan. Then they drove the two boys home.  The story of Jackson and the Whitfield family is very well documented. Basically, they took him in when he needed a home.

Quron Marks paid for all his meals “and entertainment” during his visit. But that’s immaterial. Walker gave him a ride valued at $106.08 ($.51 per mile), so unless and until Marks reimbursed the university, he was ruled ineligible to receive an athletic scholarship (that wasn’t offered).

Ryan Squire — then in charge of compliance at the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, now its Chief Integrity Officer – says this wouldn’t be the case if the recruit were Michael Finke, and the addition guest his brother Tim.

That is going back a little ways, but I don’t recall the other prospect being a foster brother. I thought it was just his good friend from Mishawaka. It would absolutely have been different if the other person was his relative as NCAA rules give us some relief when a brother or sister is a prospect and wants to be part of the official visit.

So, for example, we could transport Michael Finke’s brother to campus along with Michael and his family for the official visit. We could not, however, transport one of Michael’s high school teammates to campus for the official visit.

Marks eventually enrolled at Bethel College, and then Holy Cross College (NAIA). Jackson played for Notre Dame, beating John Groce and the Illini in the grand reopening of State Farm Center on December 2, 2015. He’s now playing for the Boston Celtics.

Jackson’s eligibility to play for Illinois was not affected by this infraction. Only Marks’s was. And lots of paperwork was generated.

Illini basketball

Hotel Policy & the NCAA

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

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.

Samson Oladimeji (Vashoune Russell)

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.