An Italian restaurant in Lexington, Ken., is now forbidden territory for all University of Kentucky athletes. Joe Bologna, owner and operator of the creatively named Joe Bologna's Restaurant, had been allowing UK basketball players to eat for free in his establishment for what is estimated to be a period of about four years. Under NCAA rules, no establishment can grant athletes freedoms or favors they wouldn't give to "normal" students, thus, it was an NCAA violation.
Kentucky's compliance department did the right thing in self-reporting to the NCAA immediately, and the only real punishment in the situation is that Bologna will not be allowed to serve any Wildcats athletes through August of 2011.
To be fair, these are very minor violations and the athletic department isn't really being punished. Still, the situation really illustrates how cockamamie NCAA rules pertaining to student-athletes can be. This situation stemmed from a member of the athletic department asking a waitress about the tipping habits of the basketball players. She replied that they tip well.
"But," the waitress added, "Joe always 'comps' their food."From there, Kentucky was required to self-report to the NCAA. In the aftermath, there were investigations, interviews, and studying of receipts (no one was ever comped more than $100 -- a violation which could have caused player suspensions). This took months.
There are sure to be people flocking to claim Kentucky is dirty now, just because they recently hired the ever-stigmatized John Calipari. This happened before Cal was hired, though, and no University personnel knew anything about it until they reported it to the NCAA. Plus, this isn't exactly a rare happening.
According to the Kentucky.com article, the NCAA processed and reviewed nearly 4,000 of these cases across the nation in 2008 alone. Four freaking grand. What a complete and utter waste of time. There is no reason for the NCAA to be concerned with private affairs, like a restaurant cozying up with athletes. So what if he likes the basketball players more than other students? You can argue, on a moral ground, that he shouldn't be giving them preferential treatment, but how is he affecting the play of the actual team? He's not.
The NCAA needs to understand that, while players are technically "student-athletes," they are different than normal students. They receive perks just because of their status, and you can't fight that. Plus, you can never expect every group of students to be treated the same everywhere they go. It's no secret beautiful women rarely pay for drinks. What if there is a play on campus and a certain restaurateur wanted to buy the cast a dinner? Should the people who didn't take part in the play try to fight the university? Of course not. This is the real world. Not everyone is treated equally in every situation. Deal with it.
Of course, the NCAA does not live in the real world. They waste colossal amounts of time and money with their bureaucracy "investigating" 4,000 matters like this one every year. They'd be hard pressed to explain what advantage is gained by the University -- especially considering Bologna is not employed by Kentucky Athletics in this example -- and who the victims in this situation are. Obviously, the line has to be drawn somewhere -- you don't need them being each granted an H2, after all -- and the $100 limit seems like a good place. I'd be fine if it was much lower, but the NCAA doesn't need to waste so much time dealing with a free meal every once in a while to these young men. There's no bigger recruiting advantage to dealings like this than there is being able to walk the players into Rupp Arena and see all those banners.
It's a victimless "crime" in which no athletic advantage is gained. Look the other way. Four thousand times a year.