The immediate answer is: Yes. Yes it is. Faced with a rule that prevents coaches from hiring people associated with recruits to non-basketball positions in a college program -- a rule designed to prevent the sketchy package deals that have become a fixture of elite recruiting in the past few years -- Floyd found a loophole. He hired one as an assistant coach instead.
Naturally, new Floyd assistant and former prep school coach Jason Niblett, whose name sounds like a particularly tasty snack, has denied that his hiring was connected to the decisions of recruits Michael Haynes and Desmond Lee, two of his former players, to attend UTEP. Which, you know, of course he did. But that doesn't make it any less fishy. (Haynes, for one, turned down scholarship offers from programs like Duke, UCLA and Texas to play for Floyd's rebuilding UTEP team. Of course he did.)
Still, the question stands: Is Tim Floyd's hiring of Niblett a particularly bad thing?
Today, Rob Dauster makes a case that though Floyd's Niblett hiring is unsavory and against the spirit of the NCAA's new rule, it's not as blatant as famed package deals of yore:
My question is whether Floyd actually did anything wrong here. Sure, it looks sketchy. I can't disagree. [...] Being a successful college basketball program is based on your ability to recruit. Based on their resumes, one can assume that these two guys are going to be able to recruit for Floyd. Recruiting is based on connections. [...] But these two hirings are different than your typical package deal. This isn't the hiring of Mario Chalmers' father or Tyreke Evans' trainer. These are two coaches that got offered better jobs and brought their players with them. When a head coach gets a better job, and he brings along his players or recruits, is that considered a package deal as well?
I'd argue that it is. Perhaps those coaches can be valuable. Perhaps Niblett is going to be a really good recruiter, that his coaching acumen is equal to or greater than any of the prospective high school coaches angling for jobs all over the country. But by taking the UTEP job in this manner, whatever merit Niblett may have as a coach goes out the window. He's now the guy who Tim Floyd hired to get two recruits. That might not be fair, but that's the way it is.
Is that really the message college hoops coaches ought to send? That the way to get a high-profile assistant job -- because you can't become a strength trainer or an administrator or a janitor under the NCAA's new rule -- is to attach yourself to skilled players and use them to propel yourself into the next level? Is that really the precedent we ought to set? What about all those coaches who stay out of the AAU fray? Who refuse to piggyback on top recruits? What about coaches who just, you know, coach?
Now the cat is out of the bag. The package deal still exists. The NCAA can't stop it unless it decides to extend its new rule to prevent hiring assistants with ties to recruits, too, the equivalent of carpet-bombing an entire golf course to take out one pesky gopher. In the end, though, maybe that's the only solution. Plug one hole, and the gopher pops up again. He's not going anywhere.