Sunday, August 8, 2010

Should NCAA Allow Isiah Thomas to be a college head coach and a consultant to an NBA team?

Jeff Eisenberg of has a very interesting piece on the New York Knicks hiring of its former head coach and president of basketball operations, Isiah Thomas, to be a consultant to the team. Thomas, who was fired by the Knicks in 2008, is currently the head coach of Florida International University's men's basketball team.

Here are some excerpts from Eisenberg's piece, which details the potential conflicts of interest:

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At a time when Boise State coaches can't even offer condolences to the family of a deceased recruit without facing NCAA punishment, the organization apparently sees no competitive advantage in a coach receiving a paycheck from an NBA team. The NCAA says it won't step in to prevent Thomas from working for the Knicks even though the franchise admitted in a press release on Friday that one of Thomas' duties will be "player recruitment."

Under this unique arrangement, Thomas would be in position to promise potential top recruits that he'll recommend them to the Knicks if they agree to play for him at FIU. Furthermore, he'll have the chance to advise FIU players whether or not to leave school early, a potential violation of NBA rules that forbid league personnel from having contact with players who haven't formally entered the draft.

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NCAA spokeswoman Jennifer Royer e-mailed the following statement on Friday when asked whether her organization had any concerns about Thomas' arrangement.

"According to an official interpretation on June 6, 2001, NCAA member institutions are provided the discretion to establish their own policies regarding employment and income arrangements between their athletics department staff members and professional sports organizations. An NCAA coach must, however, still comply with NCAA bylaws as they relate to the recruitment of prospects and the scouting of opponents."

What the NCAA may be doing by taking that stance is opening another loophole for coaches to exploit. If Thomas' consulting role with the Knicks helps FIU secure an extra recruit or two, how long will it take Bruce Pearl to ask for a similar role with the Memphis Grizzlies or Billy Donovan to hire a Miami Heat scout as his director of basketball operations?

Amazingly enough, the NBA may end up being the organization that forces Thomas to choose between FIU and the Knicks. Since the hire could violate league rules that forbid college coaches from having jobs with NBA teams, spokesman Tim Frank told the Associated Press that the league is looking into it.

"We are reviewing the agreement, in consultation with the Knicks, for compliance with league rules," he said.

To read the rest of Eisenberg's article, click here. To read our blog's previous coverage of Isiah Thomas, who has generated a number of sports law topics over the years, click here.