Conflict of Interest

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to the regulation of American college athletics. Over the past decades, the NCAA has been knocked around for its often Byzantine view of what is proper conduct for a student athlete, coach, or college sports program. And sometimes, this labyrinth of rules lead to absurd results.

John Beilein is a basketball coach. As of this writing, he’s the head coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines, but from 1997 until 2002, he was at the reins of the University of Richmond’s (UR) team. Beilein does the same thing that many college coaches do during the off-season — he scouts potential new recruits. And in the summer of 2001, he went to Indianapolis to watch a summer camp game for high school seniors-to-be. The rules are pretty clear there — coaches weren’t supposed to talk to the players. The camp was a no-recruiting zone.

But Beilein walked up to one of the players anyway — a boy named Patrick who went to Benedictine High School in Richmond. A local kid playing at a high level is a boon for a smaller school like the one Beilein was coaching, so it was no surprise that Patrick was on Beilein’s radar. Still, the rule violation was obvious, and Patrick’s coach pulled the player aside to remind him of the issue — “Come on, let’s go. You’ve got to keep moving. No talking to coaches. You know the rules,” reported the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Patrick, though, protested. John Beilein wasn’t trying to extoll the virtues of Richmond to him. Beilein was trying to give the young player some money.

Even worse? In most cases, yes — NCAA rules enforcers would have a field day with a coach trying to financially incentivize a would-be recruit. But in this case, it was different. Patrick’s last name was Beilein. He was John’s son.

The NCAA rules — as of 2001, at least, but if you follow the NCAA, you’ll likely conclude that they’re no better now — were incredibly fuzzy, making it unclear when the elder Beilein was primarily Patrick’s father or when he was his potential future coach. The Times-Dispatch highlighted a few nutty examples of this tension:

Let’s say Patrick on some Sunday afternoon wants to bring a few teammates from Benedictine to the Robins Center [where Richmond plays] and play ball while dad watches. No can do. That, according to the NCAA, would represent an unfair recruiting advantage for Coach Beilein, who may hope one of his son’s friends ends up at UR.[ . . . ]

At [Benedictine] Cadets games and throughout Patrick’s AAU competition, NCAA rules have prohibited John Beilein from making nice with Patrick’s teammates or their parents. Each of those players is viewed by the NCAA as a potential Spiders prospect, and therefore subject to recruiting-contact limitations.

“He’s asked me to tell the parents that he’s not trying to be rude, it’s just recruiting stuff,” said Patrick Beilein. “I think they understand.”

Coach Beilein can pick up his son from a Benedictine practice, but he can’t offer a ride to any of Patrick’s teammates. NCAA violation.

Patrick Beilein swears that one of his buddies, another Benedictine hoops player, “is afraid to come over to our house after [Cadets] games.” The friend worries that his presence in the Beilein living room may constitute an NCAA violation. Not so, but you get the fuzzy picture.

The NCAA never did a great job of clarifying the line between dad and coach, either; John Beilein reportedly had many reasons to inquire with the NCAA authorities as to whether certain acts were allowed under the rules.

Bonus Fact: Patrick Beilein never played for his father at the University of Richmond. He intended to, but unlike other recruits, never needed to sign a “letter of intent” (an official NCAA document binding him to the school). That’s because, as the son of a college staffer, he was already entitled to full tuition to the university. Each Division I NCAA university is limited to 13 college scholarships, so Patrick was to attend as a walk-on, thereby preserving all 13 scholarships for other students. But in 2002, John Beilein accepted the head coaching position at West Virginia. Because Patrick hadn’t signed a letter of intent with Richmond, he joined his father at West Virginia.

Double bonus!: The NCAA is being beaten up in the court system right now for allegedly unjustly profiteering off the work of high-visibility athletes, typically in men’s basketball and football. But at one point, the NCAA was skeptical of the role of money in college football. Before the New Year’s Day bowl games of 1937, according to, the NCAA came out against the establishment of post-season bowls. The Association, instead, “unanimously adopted a report that held post-season bowls had no place in college football ‘because they serve no sound educational ends, and such promotions merely trade upon intercollegiate football for commercial purposes.’”

From the ArchivesKeggy: Not really related to the above, but college mascots are rarely this awesome.

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