At 8 p.m., Maryland will take the floor at Comcast Center against Bryant University, a Division II team whose players likely can't jump as high or run as fast as the Terrapins. But they are a "team."
For the first time, NCAA rules prohibit colleges from holding exhibitions against club teams, which received as much as $25,000 guarantees for games. The problem: Colleges sometimes recruited from the summer league programs whose coaches were affiliated with the exhibition opponent.
"Those traveling teams got a pretty good guarantee," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "There was no policing where that money went."
The NCAA adopted the rule change in the spring after an exhibition between U-Conn. and a makeshift traveling team brought attention to the longtime practice. The ruling was the NCAA's latest attempt to curb the influence of traveling team coaches, some of whom operate "within the cracks" of NCAA legislation, NCAA infractions committee chairman Thomas Yeager said this spring.
But college coaches such as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said this week that the NCAA solved the problem but didn't necessarily create a proper solution. And others, like California-based summer camp organizer Dana Pump, believe it is unfair to target every traveling team coach for the actions of a few.
"All that I know is it's wrong, even if it happened once," Krzyzewski said. "To eliminate that, or even the chance that it could happen, is good. Like in a lot of things, you feel like, 'Okay, I took care of the bathroom; the water is still leaking in the kitchen.' You've got to look at the whole house. That's the problem we have."
In speaking to numerous traveling team coaches, the rule change does not appear to deter those looking for shortcuts. This summer, a summer league coach whose players have competed on multiple Final Four teams was asked how he will deal with the rule change. After a pause, he said: "Here's what I'll do: I will be a broker between Division I teams and Division III teams. I'll tell a D-I team I can find them a D-III team that will provide decent competition but won't be too tough. I'll ask for a 25-percent finder's fee."
Colleges now can hold exhibitions against only Division II, Division III or international teams. Some teams, such as Virginia Tech, will play EA Sports All-Stars, because contracts were signed before the rule change.
Dana and David Pump owned and operated five EA Sports teams that toured the country in the preseason and were sponsored by the video game company. Dana Pump, asked if the ruling was fair, said, "No, Double Pump runs it very professionally. These colleges are going to be blowing out these teams by 50 now. Like anything, there are guys who do it the right way, and guys who don't. Double Pump has integrity."
On Nov. 13, U-Conn. played an exhibition against the Beltway Ballers, a quickly assembled team that lost 102-44. The Ballers included several players once coached by Anthony Lewis, the summer league coach of Rudy Gay, a McDonald's All-American who signed with the Huskies. The Ballers reportedly received more than $20,000 for the game.
Asked yesterday if he was disappointed the Ballers would no longer play, Lewis laughed and said, "No, I'm not disappointed." He later added, "There was nothing illegal or improper. I did not initiate the game, coach in the game or attend the game."
Some college coaches questioned whether a change was necessary.
"In my opinion, that was isolated," Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton said. "And that maybe happened five, six or seven places. In my opinion, it was kind of hyped up a little bit. I'm not saying that I don't feel that what we've done would be effective. I'm just not sure it makes that much of a difference."
Other college coaches welcome the change for reasons other than eliminating possible recruiting conflicts of interest. Playing an actual team gives a coach 40 minutes to assess his players against well-organized competition.
"I had no problem playing the club teams," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "There were times we were playing very good club teams. There were other times they were pulling people out of the stands to put them on the court."
Coaches have scheduled teams for a variety of reasons. Last night, Wake Forest and star point guard Chris Paul played USC Upstate, which features Paul's brother, C.J. The Bryant team Maryland plays tonight is coached by Max Good, a friend of Williams and former Maine Central Institute and Nevada-Las Vegas coach.
"That's what you want; you want someone who will execute good offense against you," said Williams, who after the season will examine the possibility of scrimmaging another Division I team in the preseason. "Yeah, you should jump higher and outrun [Bryant]. But he'll expose some weaknesses you might have."