By far, the most interesting take on the recent story about Lane Kiffin talking with prospects while ESPN cameras were rolling comes from the recruiting guru himself, ESPN's Bruce Feldman. I blame old age, politicians, and trans fats for not thinking of this earlier (despite the fact that we not only reviewed his fantastic book Meat Market but interviewed him as well), but Feldman wasn't just in the room for a "Hi, how are ya" but in the recruiting war room with Ed Orgeron and the entire Ole Miss staff for a year. Why wasn't that a secondary violation?
Has to be the timing, right? Perhaps it's only a violation if the story comes out before the prospect has signed. That's what Feldman was thinking, anyway, and so he set out to get some clarification from the NCAA, which "clarification" (by email; he couldn't get them on the phone -- surprise!) he published:
[BF] at 4:27 p.m.: And in terms of 13.10, if the media is in the presence of the coaches for a story about recruiting wouldn't that be a violation if there is any interaction by the coaches with recruits while the media is there? Or is it OK as long as the story is not published or aired until AFTER signing day?
Christopher Radford of the NCAA at 4:54: Coaches aren't allowed to publicize any contact with recruits, so as far as media presence goes, it is a violation if the coach talks about a specific prospect to a reporter, whether the story is published or not.
[BF] at 4:59: No, I'm talking about if the coach lets the reporter just observe and play fly-on-the-wall while they're going about their daily business and calling recruits.
Radford at 5:25: Theoretically, yes
[BF] at 5:42: Theoretically it would be a violation, regardless of whether the story came out before or AFTER signing day, does the timing matter?
Radford at 6: Timing does not matter.
So I guess that means that either Ole Miss or Ed Orgeron will soon be reporting 365 secondary violations for allowing Feldman to hang out with them and write Meat Market, and Ole Miss fans will be blaming Feldman for staging the whole thing.
Look, if Feldman doesn't know how the NCAA is going to interpret and enforce the rule, I don't know how we're supposed to know. In fact, I think it's highly likely that the NCAA is scurrying behind closed office doors and wondering in hushed tones whether they know. When an agency begins to preface answers to questions with "theoretically," that's a sure sign that they're confused about their own enforcement.
So what's the big deal? Lane Kiffin has self-reported or committed five, maybe six, secondary violations since he was hired six months ago. Sounds to me like he's on pace:
Truth is, almost every program has at least a dozen secondary violations a year. Until recently, they almost never made news.
Which is why historical information on them is so hard to find online. But we're beginning to find bits and pieces here and there, and those little nuggets are beginning to confirm that one secondary violation per month is not a big deal. As we discovered in our comment thread yesterday, the report that Ohio State has averaged nearly 40 secondary violations per year over the last ten did not originate with a Michigan blog but a Columbus, Ohio newspaper. And it appears that LSU reports about 50 per year, although the link to the original source is mysteriously unavailable.
So if everyone's doing it, why is Kiffin getting all of the attention? As Feldman says, he's "just been the most vocal and the most up front about it." That may actually be his undoing, assuming (1) there is some element of intent to the rules that would elevate the violations to something more serious than a secondary; and (2) his statements can be construed to infer intent.
Kiffin may have said that he meant to poke his rivals, but I doubt that he's said that he intended to break any rules. Posing the question of whether he's calculating or merely reckless may be a bit of a false dilemma.* Perhaps he's just conciously decided to be reckless.
*Griffith and I arrived at this conclusion independently of each other, by the way.