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When NCAA says no, Howard’s hometown steps up

Mar 31, 2011, 9:05 AM EDT

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Playing in the Final Four is usually a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Butler was lucky enough last year to play in Indianapolis, but this year’s Houston venue is a bit tougher trip for families to afford.

Any booster willing to help those families isn’t allowed, either. Against NCAA rules.

For example: Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay offered to fly Matt Howard’s family to Houston, but the school nixed it. So he instead donated to a fund started by the town of Connorsville, Ind., (Howard’s hometown). $3,000 later, the family can go to Houston to watch Howard play.

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(Something similar happened for the family of VCU’s Toby Veal, too. Read the details here.)

NCAA president Mark Emmert told USA Today that’s helping families with expenses such as attending games is something he’s open to exploring other options. Hopeful, right?

Then again, he hardly sounded open to it when he spoke to PBS earlier this month for a special on the “Money & March Madness; If everyone else is profiting from the multibillion dollar college sports business, why shouldn’t the athletes?”. From a lengthy Q&A:

Q: One of the things that former players reflected on — these are NBA players — is that many of their teammates watching March Madness, their families couldn’t afford to come to the games. They can’t take money from boosters to pay for their hotel bills or airfare, and the NCAA won’t pay for it either. They get two free tickets. Is that true?

A: The NCAA does not provide travel benefits for families.

Q: So if they can’t afford it themselves, they can’t see their children playing in the stadium or playing in the arena in March Madness?

A: I’m not sure what — is that a question or a statement?

Q: I mean, their son cannot solicit money from someone –

A: That’s right. We do not want student-athletes soliciting money. That’s a fact.

Q: I mean, I think it would surprise a lot of people watching these games that, particularly in the Final Four, that the families can’t afford to come, yet there’s $700 million in revenue coming into the NCAA as part of this broadcast.

A: Well, I don’t know the extent to which families can’t afford to come to those games. I mean, you’re saying it as if this is a widespread phenomenon, and I’d be fascinated to know what the extent of that problem really is.

The complete special can be seen here.

I don’t have a proper answer to this. There’s a slippery slope involved if boosters start offering things to families of players, but surely there’s a way to make exceptions for special events. It’s a start.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

  1. florida727 - Mar 31, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    Big surprise, another example of the idiots at the NCAA making hundreds of millions of dollars off of student-athletes, and not even providing a token of appreciation by allowing under-privileged families to watch their kids live… a once-in-a-lifetime experience for BOTH the player AND the family. Do you cover the expenses for an eighth cousin four times removed? No. But mom, dad, sisters and brothers? Absolutely.

    How awesome would it be if a school stepped up and said, “Hey, thrilled we made it to the Final Four, but since our families can’t afford to go, and you can’t help, we won’t be making the trip either. Sorry NCAA. Sorry CBS Sports. Wish we could be there. Have a great time. Send us pictures.”

  2. LPad - Mar 31, 2011 at 5:56 PM

    And the NCAA wonders why players leave early and why they had to beg David Stern to prevent them jumping straight to the pros?

    Pretty easy answer, most of them are poor, their parents, brothers and sisters are struggling to eat, and the NCAA pretends they can afford to travel across the country. Here are two free tickets. Oh, we didn’t know you have 3 sisters. Well, I hope two of them can afford to get here.

    By the way, don’t sell the tickets. My mom is getting evicted. Rules are rules.

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