Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donating one of his own kidneys to freshman player Kevin Jordan is one of the best stories we've heard in a long time. So we're not sure if it speaks more to our cynicism or the labyrinthine bylaws of the NCAA that we honestly wondered: does this violate anything in the rulebook? It's probably not just us, because Wake Forest asked too.
"any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution's athletics interests to provide a student-athlete or the student-athlete's relative or friend a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation."
Obviously, organ donation isn't expressly authorized. So by the narrowest of definition, Tom Walter's kidney would be an extra benefit. But no one, no matter how bureaucratic, how grinchy, could ever find fault in this case. Right? Wake Forest wanted to make sure.
That fell to Todd Hairston, the school's associate athletic director for compliance.
"The possibility crossed our mind," he admits, "so we did our due diligence."
As per protocol, he consulted with the ACC's compliance office, their liaison with the NCAA. They were, in Hairston's words, "unequivocally in support of this. When you look at the definition of an extra benefit I can see how that can cross someone's mind. But it's a student well-being issue, and that supersedes any concerns that people might have had."
"There was almost no research done," says Shane Lyons, ACC Associate Commissioner. "Of course we looked at NCAA legislation, but we also looked at the intent. It's a very heartfelt thing from the coach to the student-athlete. Clearly this is something completely separate from what the bylaws cover. We had no inclination to even ask the NCAA."
Had they done so, they would have been in the clear. According to John Infante, Loyola Marymount's assistant director of compliance and author of the indispensable Bylaw Blog, there is a clause in the bylaws that is deliberately vague.
"The case would most likely be covered under Bylaw 16.4.1," says Infante, "which is a very broad bylaw allowing for an institution to pay virtually any medically related expense. While normally this covers things like health insurance, surgeries, rehab, and medication, an organ would be a necessary 'expense' of the surgery. Just as a university could reimburse a student-athlete for medication or provide them with the medication itself, the university or a staff member could provide the organ itself."
So Wake Forest is in the clear. Kevin Jordan is recovering nicely. Tom Walter has made the slogan for his 2011 team "sacrifice." And those in charge of policing actual violations aren't worried about setting a precedent unlikely to come up again.
"If a bunch of student-athletes start looking for organs from their coaches, then we've got a different issue on our hands," jokes Lyons. "And the next kid who wants a kidney from coach Walter is out of luck."