If the University of Louisville basketball team had not cut down the nets in Atlanta in 2013, this town would be storming the NCAA offices with torches and pitchforks right now. It had been over a quarter-century since U of L last won the NCAA Championship, so one year removed, we fans lack the sense of urgency we shared prior to that win. Maybe it is because we know how good this team could be — or, even worse, how good Kentucky’s team is — but we need to rekindle that fire. If not for our own prospects of winning another championship this spring, then on behalf of justice for a young man who chose to attend Louisville, 2,300 miles from his family.
So why can’t Shaqquan Aaron play?
Late Monday night was the first update in nearly a month from any local news outlet (other than last week’s LEO) on the status of Aaron’s initial eligibility to play basketball for the Cards this year. Hopefully, by the time LEO hits the racks across the city Wednesday morning, the NCAA will have cleared Aaron to play.
However, two conspicuous questions remain: Where is the public outcry? And more importantly, what did the NCAA do to this young man?
The prior question is a combination of factors: First, this community lacks the urgency we felt before winning the 2013 championship. Second, this year’s Cards are really really good again. And unfortunately, the team from Lexington is (deservedly) garnering a lot of attention.
Yet the latter question is less clear. Aaron is in school, majoring in business — not exactly a fluff degree — and even practicing with the team. So why has Louisville’s top recruit missed the first month of the season?
The answer: Only the NCAA knows. And herein lies the problem.
The NCAA is a nonprofit organization, meaning it is subsidized by taxpayers. Essentially, our government believes there should be financial considerations for an organization that operates intercollegiate athletics because that provides important social value. It is also a “membership-driven organization,” which means participating schools have volunteered to join the organization — and abide by their rules. However, when the rules, and in particular the means by which the rules are enforced, violate fundamental rights provided by the Constitution, there is a problem.
In the case of Shaqquan Aaron and his family, the NCAA has violated his basic American rights and demonstrated complete disregard for the spirit of our Constitution. To wit: search and seizure (Amendment IV), due process, a speedy and public trial, informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, confronted by witnesses against him, ability to argue in your own self defense, (Amendment VI), trial by jury (Amendment VII), cruel and unusual punishment (Amendment VIII), unspecified rights don’t mean the right does not exist (Amendment IX), extended right to privacy, life, liberty, and property with due process, as well as equal protection of the laws (Amendment XIV) .
I’m not suggesting that anyone be jailed for these crimes. But what this country and hundreds of thousands of college athletes deserve is a transparent process by which we can all hold each other accountable. Whether or not Aaron should be eligible to play college basketball is not the issue. The lack of fairness and transparency in a flawed process is the issue.
After asking “Where is Shaqquan Aaron?” in last week’s Editor’s Note, I received a phone call from Everette Glenn, who is advising the Aaron family through the NCAA investigation. The conversation was not about a public relations campaign for Aaron, but rather a shadowy process by which the NCAA arbitrarily determines the fate of young athletes.
In July 2014, Aaron filled out his online initial-eligibility form. His older brother, Shaddean, played basketball at Mercer University from 2004-2008, so this process was not unfamiliar to Shaqquan or his family — nor were the basic NCAA rules of eligibility. The first indication that there were concerns over his eligibility were when his family began to receive inquiries from the NCAA for financial documents demonstrating how his family paid for the portion of his freshman year prep school tuition not covered by scholarship. Aaron and his family were only formally notified of the specific possible infractions the first week of November — four months into the investigation, two months into the school year and two weeks into the basketball season.
The accused student-athlete has still not been afforded the opportunity to know what led to the investigation, the witnesses or materials that may be used against him, nor the opportunity to refute or respond to any of that information — to provide even a basic self defense. Further, the University is the only representation available to the accused. The NCAA does not answer to the accused or his family, only U of L as the member institution.
Back on November 7, head coach Rick Pitino indicated that the University had submitted the final documents to the NCAA. Four weeks later, Pitino and Aaron wait for a decision along with the rest of us.
As taxpayers and Americans, when we are subsidizing a business, we deserve to know how they are operating. That is why 501(c)3 organizations must publicly disclose their financial records. But more importantly, when the lives and reputations of young men are in jeopardy — life-changing determinations are being administered — there is a fundamental public interest in what the process is. That is why the Constitution affords accused persons the aforementioned rights.
In Aaron’s case, public perception does not just mean judgment of his character, but his ability to pursue a professional career in basketball. Whatever raised the red flag at the NCAA may be completely harmless, and Aaron may be completely exonerated. But in the world of professional sports, when a player is scrutinized and evaluated to one-hundredth of an inch by potential employers — teams — even a misguided investigation could prove damaging to his draft stock, hence his ability to make a living. If for no other reason, this is another important justification for expanded transparency.
If the NCAA, as it states in its mission, is “dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of student-athletes and equipping them with the skills to succeed on the playing field, in the classroom and throughout life,” then it needs to spend as much time and money keeping kids in college as it does keeping them out. With $800 million dollars in revenue, some money needs to be spared for providing a fair, transparent process — one that is consistent with the spirit of the US Constitution. And if not for the public’s sake, then for the sake of those young athletes who perform and make the NCAA so profitable. If their rights are not protected, we have to ask — what lesson are you teaching?
I have spoken with our congressman, John Yarmuth (KY-3), about the Aaron situation, as well as the nebulous process that holds him hostage. As a student at U ofL Aaron is now his constituent, and Yarmuth owes it to that young man to publicly call on the NCAA to amend its governing process as it applies to player eligibility, become more transparent and protect the rights of the athletes it claims to support — a process that better reflects the spirit of the Constitution.
While we await the final decision, and the NCAA continues to operate without regard for Shaqquan’s athletic or academic future, and without oversight from the government, I only have one final question — would this have happened to a white athlete named Luke?