NCAA rules are strict when it comes to regulating what university athletic programs can give potential student-athletes — even if those “gifts” are donations meant to help those affected by natural disasters.
Such was the red tape University of Houston basketball Coach Kelvin Sampson ran into last week when he began a donation drive to collect new sneakers, clothes and gear to give out, some of which would go to local student-athletes.
The fear, according to Lauren Dubois, UH’s senior associate athletic director, was that the school would be seen as sending the collected gear to top Houston recruits in an attempt to entice them to attend the school in the future.
“But, obviously, that is not our intention at all,” Dubois told Houston’s KHOU 11 News.
Luckily for the school, the NCAA believes UH officials, who applied for a waiver to be able to distribute the items.
“The NCAA was very quick in getting us this waiver . . . and it’s full steam ahead,” Cougars Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek told ESPN on Saturday.
Yurachek said he agrees with the basic rule that restricts schools from enticing potential recruits with gifts but that it may overreach in certain cases, such as when athletic programs are trying to donate goods in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
“Somewhere along the line, this rule makes sense,” Yurachek said. “But nobody thought to put in an exception like a natural disaster. The NCAA gets a bad rap, but the NCAA just enforces the rule that the membership introduces and votes on.”
The NCAA tweeted its decision about the waiver Saturday, noting it told American Athletic Conference officials Thursday that Houston could donate to Harvey recovery efforts. It’s unclear why Houston did not get the message until Saturday.
With the red tape worked out, Sampson and other Cougars staff are ready to start shipping out their goods, which ESPN reports includes more than 100,000 T-shirts and tens of thousands of pairs of shoes.
The items were all collected from fellow high schools, colleges and universities, which learned of Sampson’s efforts through his Twitter account last week. Sampson wrote an emotional plea to fellow coaches to send any extra stock they might have to the city for distribution.
“Both men’s and women’s HS, JC, every level of college D1, D2, D3, NAIA . . . if you can, please send 20 of your schools T-shirts and 10 pair of shoes,” Sampson wrote. “All of our hearts go out to those in need during these devastating times.”
Schools and programs from around the nation responded in droves. Gear even came in from some Florida programs potentially affected by Hurricane Irma, which is on track to make landfall in the state on this weekend.
“We’ve been floored,” Yurachek, the athletic director, told ESPN. “It’s been overwhelming. Coach Sampson is in there every day unloading boxes of shoes and folding T-shirts. We’re probably getting 200 to 300 boxes of shoes and T-shirts every day.”