College athletics' slip is showing, and it's not very becoming.
The mother, stepfather and brother of former USC tailback Reggie Bush lived last year in a new $750,000 home owned by a man who hoped to represent their soon-to-be-professional son. If Bush's family members paid market rent, there is no NCAA violation. If they didn't pay market rent, there is.
Bush's attorney maintains that his client knew nothing about whether the family lived within the confines of the NCAA manual. USC asked the Pacific-10 Conference to determine the facts and to determine if the family had committed an NCAA violation. That is standard operating procedure in the league, which has traditionally committed more resources to enforcement than the other major conferences.
Sounds simple, right? But when you think about it, the gray area is bigger than the London skyline.
First of all, the university is held responsible for the behavior of the parents, who may live across town or across the country. It's difficult enough for the university to ride herd on student-athletes who spend their lives on the university campus. But the NCAA expects the university tether to extend to the parents, as well.
"It's ultimately the institution's responsibility to make sure they [a student-athlete and family] are following our bylaws," NCAA spokesperson Jennifer Kearns said.
Second, how realistic is that? Unlike the athletes themselves, who are pummeled about the ears with information about what they can and cannot do according to NCAA rules, parent education is not formalized. People who consider the NCAA manual a hurdle to leap over have figured that out.
"It's been pretty well determined that when you get people trying to get to the kid, they will try to get to the parents or the people around him," Pac-10 spokesman Jim Muldoon said.
The NCAA doesn't consider ignorance of its rule to be a sufficient defense, and, anyway, ignorance isn't an issue in this case. A source at USC told ESPN.com that in the last year, the athletic department went over the compliance "dos and don'ts" with Bush's mother, Denise Griffin, and his stepfather, LaMar Griffin. Bush's parents were a noticeable presence around the football team. LaMar Griffin could usually be found in the Trojan postgame locker room.
But the source also said that USC has no formal educational process set up for all parents, "though that may change now."
"It's ultimately the institution's responsibility to make sure they [a student-athlete and family] are following our bylaws."
NCAA spokesperson Jennifer Kearns
So the school maintains that the Griffins knew. But most parents don't. Kearns said there is enough discussion in the media of what constitutes amateurism and what doesn't that most parents should understand the basics. That is wishful thinking at best. Under that logic, there would be no need to go over -- and over and over -- the rules with the athletes themselves.
Kearns also said the NCAA has an office open daily which takes calls from the public regarding rules interpretations. Parents are welcome and encouraged to call.
"People don't really look at the NCAA as an educational resource, but we do that," Kearns said.
That's great, but how would a parent know to call? The truth is, the education of parents regarding NCAA rules is, and I'm not sure this is a legal term, catch-as-catch-can. On Monday, a father whose son is a 2006 football signee spoke with ESPN.com.
"If you don't ask, you don't know," said the father, whose son received scholarship offers from schools in three BCS conferences. "If you don't want to know, you won't find out. Not a lot of information is given, and only when we ask is it offered."
That's hardly a foundation on which to build a culture of compliance. The truth is, it might be an impossible task.
"It's problematical. There's no question," Muldoon said.
The NCAA, under president Myles Brand, has done a better job of communicating its rules and its mission than under any of its previous leaders. Of course, that's not saying a whole lot. However, this episode regarding Bush and his family reveals how difficult a task the NCAA and its member schools have. If USC adopts a more aggressive educational program for the parents of its athletes, that would be one ray of sunshine in a gray skyline.
But I wouldn't be surprised if the forecast remains cloudy for some time to come.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.