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Guy-Marc Michel's eligibility in question.

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Indiana defeated Franklin College 89-37 last night, but the big news was that junior college transfer Guy-Marc Michel, who had received good reviews in practice, was on the bench in street clothes.  Here is IU's statement on Michel:

"The NCAA is reviewing the status of Guy-Marc Michel. Prior to attending North Idaho Community College, Guy participated in club basketball in France, where he finished high school and enrolled in some college courses. In three years with the French club, Guy participated as a member of an amateur team. In his third year, he was ‘called up’ for limited participation with a team that included professional players.

Given the experiences of other international student-athletes who have participated in European basketball systems, we anticipated some extended review of Guy’s status.

We have great respect for the NCAA’s process, particularly because we know they have a practice of reviewing each individual student-athlete’s case on its own merit, with a focus on what’s best for the student. We also appreciate the NCAA’s increased understanding of the circumstances facing international student-athletes, which led to recent rule changes that permit immediate eligibility for entering freshman with the same competitive experiences as Guy.

With these factors in mind, we are hopeful for a positive resolution to Guy’s case within the coming weeks. While he is not eligible to compete at this time, he will continue to improve in practice, and he’ll continue doing very well in the classroom, until the process is complete. We will have no additional comments until the matter is resolved."

IU's statement provides some detail, but not a line-by-line description of the NCAA rules at issue, so I decided to take a look at the NCAA's 2010-11 handbook (.pdf).  The rules at issue appear to be those within Article 12 of the NCAA bylaws.  Article 12 concerns amateurism.  It's pretty well-known that the NCAA allows competition only by amateur athletes, but there is no easy definition of "amateur."  All of Article 12 is dedicated to deciding who is and isn't an amateur athlete. 


It seems likely to me that the main issues are: 1) was the upper level team that Michel played on a "professional team?  2) if so, is there any way around it?  It would appear that the initial problem is set forth in section, which states:

An individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever competed on a professional team (per Bylaw 12.02.4) in that sport.  [the section then includes some non-basketball exceptions].

Based on that, it would appear that if Michel's club team were considered a professional team, then he would not be eligible to play for an NCAA school.  Later, however, there is an exception: Exception—Competition Before Initial Full-Time Collegiate Enrollment—Sports
Other Than Men’s Ice Hockey and Skiing.
In sports other than men’s ice hockey and skiing, before initial
full-time collegiate enrollment, an individual may compete on a professional team (per Bylaw 12.02.4),
provided he or she does not receive more than actual and necessary expenses to participate on the team.
(Adopted: 4/29/10 effective 8/1/10; applicable to student-athletes who initially enroll full time in a collegiate
institution on or after 8/1/10).

Note what is in bold there.  This is a new rule, and is applicable only to those who enroll in a "collegiate institution" on or after August 1, 2010.  This rule creates an exception to the rule cited above.  It seems like pure madness that prior to the adoption of this rule, playing for a professional team would render a basketball player ineligible, even if the player had never been paid to play basketball.  Still, that was the rule.  It now has been changed, and is effective today, but only to those who first enrolled in a "collegiate institution" after August 1, 2010.  The NCAA bylaws do not contain a definition of "collegiate institution," but based on the way the NCAA uses terms in the bylaws, I think it's fair to assume that a "collegiate institution" is a "college" of any sort.  The bylaws use the term "member institution" to refer to NCAA members, so the term appears to be intentionally broader than that.  Therefore, it seems likely that Michel enrolled in a "collegiate institution" when he started at Northern Idaho College two years ago, and that the exception to the rule doesn't apply to him.  

Of course, all of that brings us back to the first question, which is, what is a "professional team"?  Here's how the NCAA defines it:

12.02.4 Professional Athletics Team. A professional team is any organized team that:
(a) Provides any of its players more than actual and necessary expenses for participation on the team, except as otherwise permitted by NCAA legislation. Actual and necessary expenses are limited to the following, provided the value of these items is commensurate with the fair market value in the locality of the player(s) and is not excessive in nature: (Revised: 4/25/02 effective 8/1/02)
(1) Meals directly tied to competition and practice held in preparation for such competition;
(2) Lodging directly tied to competition and practice held in preparation for such competition;
(3) Apparel, equipment and supplies;
(4) Coaching and instruction;
(5) Health/medical insurance;
(6) Transportation (expenses to and from practice competition, cost of transportation from home to training/practice site at the beginning of the season and from training/practice site to home at the end of season);
(7) Medical treatment and physical therapy;
(8) Facility usage; (Revised: 4/24/03)
(9) Entry fees; and (Revised: 4/24/03)
(10) Other reasonable expenses; or (Adopted: 4/24/03, Revised: 10/28/04)
(b) Declares itself to be professional (see Bylaw (Revised: 8/8/02)

At this point, it becomes clear why IU's statement is written as it is.  IU said: " In his third year, he was ‘called up’ for limited participation with a team that included professional players."  Note that IU did not say that Guy was called up to play for a "professional team," but was called up to play for a team that "included professional players."  IU seems to be leaving open the possibility that although some of the players on the team were professionals, they may not necessarily have been paid for their participation on this particular team.  In other words, playing with professionals is okay, but not if they are being paid for playing on that particular team.

The other issue, of course, is whether Michel was paid for playing basketball.  Based on IU's confident statement that the rules now allow "immediate eligibility for entering freshman with the same competitive experiences as Guy," I'm guessing that isn't a major concern from IU.  Still, the lack of detail in IU's statement makes it difficult to sort out exactly what is happening.  Based on my reading of the (insane) NCAA bylaws, if the team was a professional team, then Michel would not be eligible, even if he never was paid to play basketball.   What we don't know is what particular issues the NCAA is reviewing. 

What is maddening is that it is possible that Michel's eligibility will turn on the arcane issue of whether he was playing on a "professional team" or a "team that happened to include professionals," even though he wasn't paid.  The current NCAA rule seems to make sense: regardless of his teammates, a student athlete who hasn't been paid to play his sport is eligible.  Of course, the NCAA being the NCAA, it was important that someone get screwed, and at this time, it would appear that those people will be junior college players. If Michel were a freshmen, and he had never been paid to play basketball, he would be eligible.  Because he's a junior college transfer, he may not be eligible, even if he has never been paid to play basketball.  This is madness.  Again,I'm not overly familiar with the NCAA bylaws, so I don't know if there is a way to seek a common sense exception for a player who would be eligible if the bylaws had been amended two years earlier.

Finally, it would appear that Michel is practicing under a "temporary certification."  Here's the relevant section: Temporary Certification. If a prospective student-athlete reports for athletics participation
before the student’s amateur status has been certified, the student may practice, but not
compete, for a maximum period of 45 days. After this period, the student shall have his or her amateur
status certified to continue to practice or to compete. (Adopted: 1/9/06 effective 8/1/06, for all final certifications
for student-athletes initially enrolling at a Division I or Division II institution on or after 8/1/07,
Revised: 11/29/09)

Because Michel began practicing on October 15, it would appear to me that by the end of November, Michel will either be certified, or he will have to stop practicing.  I would hope that means that we can expect a ruling by then, but who knows?  This would seem to answer the question of "why now"?  This isn't a recent issue.  My guess is that IU has known all along that Michel didn't have a final certification of eligibility and that he was practicing under a temporary certification, and the staff was hoping that the issue would be resolved by the first game.

Caveat: I don't deal with the NCAA bylaws for a living, and this is nothing but lunch hour analysis.  If anyone, based on experience or his or her own reading of these bylaws, disagrees with me, I certainly would value the input.