Twice in recent months, Nike, Inc., has ignored the advice of the NCAA regarding the shoe company's summer basketball camps and all-star games, NCAA officials say, causing two highly publicized incidents that could jeopardize the high school and college eligibility of several prep stars.
Chris Schoemann, an NCAA legislative services assistant, said he had told Rich Shuebrooks, Nike's manager of basketball events, in early August that Nike should check with state high school associations before staging its "Fab 40" all-star tournament Sept. 11 and 12.
Nike's failure to follow that advice has resulted in eligibility questions for many of the 37 players who attended the event at the company's Beaverton, Ore., headquarters.
"If that's true, that kind of action would severely damage Nike's credibility," said Sam Bounds, principal at Clinton High in Mississippi. Bounds has been dealing with the matter as a result of Clinton star Jerod Ward's participation in the event.
Ward, a 6-foot-9 senior, faces a one-game suspension, imposed by the Mississippi High School Activities Assn., as a result of his participation in the tournament.
The eligibility of at least half a dozen participants from other states--including Illinois, Tennessee and Florida--remains subject to review.
Nike also, according to NCAA officials, failed to follow the advice of the NCAA in the company's dealings earlier in the summer with Allen Iverson, a guard from Hampton, Va.
Iverson was regarded by many as the top high school basketball prospect in the country before he was sentenced Sept. 8 to five years in prison for his role in a brawl.
Arizona Coach Lute Olson, one of several prominent college coaches who have shoe contracts with Nike, said both scenarios, if accurate, reflect badly on the company.
"Any time you have someone running all-star games or camps, if they've checked with the NCAA and (the NCAA) has given them some advice that has not been followed, then somebody has really dropped the ball," he said.
In the case of the "Fab 40" tournament, the NCAA's Schoemann said he was contacted by Nike's Shuebrooks during the first week in August. Schoemann said he told Shuebrooks that such a tournament would be proper under NCAA rules but might conflict with high school regulations.
"I told him to check with the high school associations," said Schoemann, who deals with issues regarding summer basketball competition for the NCAA. "I told him to check, not so much from an award standpoint, but from the standpoint of whether these kids could travel during the academic year.
"The first flag that went up for me was, 'You're going to need to contact (the high school associations) because of the travel issue.' "
Such was the case with the California Interscholastic Federation. The CIF ruled that the eight players from the state who competed in the event had violated the federation rule prohibiting participation in all-star tournaments from Sept. 1 until the end of the basketball season. The CIF, however, declined to punish the players.
Other state associations have had problems with the tournament because participants received $100 Nike gift certificates. The players used the gift certificates during a shopping trip to the company's employee store.
Asked how Nike could have failed to follow his advice, Schoemann said, "I can't begin to imagine why they didn't (contact the state associations). I don't know if Rich heard me say it. I just don't know."
Shuebrooks referred all comment to Nike spokesman Keith Peters, who said the company is unclear on what information was exchanged before the tournament.
"I'm not going to contradict (the NCAA)," he said. "Rich may or may not have been told directly (to contact the state associations). The fact of the matter is we didn't check out the rules (in each state)."
The Iverson matter appears to have followed a similar pattern.
While attending Nike's All-American Basketball Festival in Indianapolis in July, Iverson received extra plane tickets from the company that allowed him to be present at court proceedings in Virginia.
In providing Iverson with the extra air fare--an apparent violation of the NCAA's rules regarding amateurism--Nike did not follow the advice of Bob Minnix, an NCAA enforcement director who was present at the camp, according to Steve Mallonee, an NCAA director of legislative services.
"Bob has specifically told me he was asked the question (about providing Iverson with the extra air fare), and his response was, 'You need to check with legislative services,' " Mallonee said. "To my knowledge, nobody checked with us.
"I'm not passing blame. I'm just saying that, under (NCAA) rules, it was OK for (Nike) to give the kid his expenses to come to the camp. The problem was flying him back for court appearances."
Minnix confirmed that he told a Nike representative to clear the matter with legislative services, but declined to identify the company representative because the sequence of events could, at some point, become an issue in Iverson's college eligibility.
Said Nike's Peters: "The specifics (of the Iverson matter) are news to me. That may or may not be true. But if we made mistakes, it wasn't because we were trying to be devious. The kid was in a jam. We tried to help him out."