It’s time for a Yann Hufnagel rule in college sports.
So much is happening in the world of collegiate athletics in April of 2016, and while championships in basketball and hockey have been decided, the real action has occurred off the court and away from the rink.
Tyler Summitt at Louisiana Tech. Baylor football. Satellite camps. Text messages between coaching staffs and players. It’s been hard to keep track of everything.
So much off-field news has coursed through the college sports community over the past week, in fact, that you should not feel out of the loop if you missed this story, which broke in the news-cycle black hole of late Friday afternoon:
Former Cal assistant Yann Hufnagel has reached an agreement to join Eric Musselman’s staff at Nevada, a source told @CBSSports. …
— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) April 8, 2016
Our partners at The Comeback offered an initial report on this story. In that report, you can plainly see that Hufnagel landed in Reno before the University of California at Berkeley completed its investigation into alleged sexual harrassment by Hufnagel toward a female reporter. The Comeback and Awful Announcing covered that particular story when it broke a month earlier.
Isn’t there something gravely wrong with this picture?
No, this isn’t a presumption of guilt (though Hufnagel, in the Awful Announcing link provided above, did admit to a certain degree of improper behavior — just not to the level of harassment). This is merely about allowing events to run their course.
Being allowed to coach Division I basketball — to go into the homes of recruits and their families — is a privilege, not a right. We could conduct a messy and wide-ranging debate about NCAA violations and how they differ from criminal acts, but let’s not go there — not today.
Let’s start with the simple point that whereas many NCAA violations — the things that get programs banned from NCAA tournaments or bowl games — are strictly about rules pertaining to the eligibility of athletes, the Hufnagel case concerns an alleged act which concerns the causing of injury or trauma (or both) to another human person. These are two very different theaters of wrongdoing, one far more consequential and damaging than the other.
The point should be obvious: Schools (Nevada, in this case) should not be allowed to hire coaches (Hufnagel, in this case) under investigation for alleged actions which — if verified or confirmed — did indeed cause injury to other persons.
One can acknowledge that a tangled and thorny thicket of complications exists in the attempt to draw clear boundaries between NCAA violations and criminal acts, between breaking rules within an organization and breaking laws in the larger whole of society. Yet, what harm can it do to allow UC-Berkeley to complete its investigation here, and carry out a process in which Hufnagel’s conduct can be evaluated in a fuller light, regardless of what the results might be?
It’s easy to be very critical of Nevada and Eric Musselman here — to be sure, the school and Musselman do not look good in all of this — but something I’ve said for many years as a chronicler of college sports very much applies here: A lot of decisions should never belong to schools or coaches in the first place, and this is one of them.
Nevada — or any school seeking Hufnagel’s services as a dynamite recruiter — never should have been allowed to have the chance to hire him until Berkeley’s investigation was completed and Hufnagel was viewed to be innocent (enough). Not being able to — at the very least — place a freeze on Hufnagel’s ability to seek, or be sought by, a new employer during the continuation of the University of California’s investigation is a manifest inadequacy in the NCAA’s architecture of processes and procedures.
We’re nearly two full decades into the 21st century, and this loophole still exists?
It’s worth reaffirming this point:
One can’t place blame for this and other NCAA inadequacies at the feet of Mark Emmert, who — at the end of the day — is a spokesman and mouthpiece for a large community of member schools with presidents who can shift the course of the organization if they so chose.
The need for reform is not something Emmert needs to hear from unimportant bloggers such as myself, or from fans and alumni. This is something Emmert needs to hear from college presidents, and college presidents are the people who need to receive the message from citizens that what happened Friday afternoon in Reno is unacceptable.
College presidents need to know that the Yann Hufnagel rule needs to become a reality in college sports… so that mid-investigation maneuvers such as this one can’t recur at any point in the future.