University of Oregon officials are looking into the circumstances surrounding Cliff Harris’s motor vehicle violation earlier this week. Harris, along with two other Oregon football players, was pulled over by an Oregon State police officer who clocked the vehicle driven by Harris at 118 miles per hour. Harris has been cited for driving with a suspended license on multiple occasions.
Interestingly, this has not been the only issue in regard to this incident. The car Harris was driving was a rental car loaned by University of Oregon employee, Mindy Schmidling, who is a payroll specialist in the university’s office of business affairs. This could potentially be an extra benefit under NCAA legislation.
There are four key bylaws to review when analyzing whether this is an extra benefit that could jeopardize the players’ eligibility.
NCAA Bylaw 16.01.1 (Eligibility Effect of Violation): A SA shall not receive any extra-benefit. Receipt by a SA of an award, benefit or expense allowance not authorized by NCAA legislation renders the SA ineligible for athletics competition in the sport for which the improper award, benefit or expense was received. If the SA receives an extra benefit not authorized by NCAA legislation, the individual is ineligible in all sports.
NCAA Bylaw 16.01.1.1 (Restitution for Receipt of Impermissible Benefits): …For violations of Bylaw 16 which there is no monetary value to the benefit, violations shall be considered institutional violations per NCAA Constitution 2.8.1; however such violations shall not affect the SA’s eligibility.
NCAA Bylaw 16.02.3 (Extra Benefit): An extra benefit is any special arrangement by an institutional employee or a representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide a SA or the SA’s relative or friend a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. Receipt of the benefit by SAs or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students or their relatives or friends or to a particular segment of the student body (e.g., international students, minority students) determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.
NCAA Bylaw 188.8.131.52 (c) (Other Prohibited Benefits): An institutional employee or representative of the institution’s athletics interests may not provide an SA with extra benefits or services including an automobile or use of an automobile.
When analyzing the facts under these Bylaws there is obviously a violation of NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206(c). Harris received a rental car for personal use from an institutional employee. This is a prohibited extra benefit and under NCAA Bylaw 16.01.1 this would make the involved players ineligible in all sports, unless an exception can be found. The exception that could possibly qualify in this case is if Schmidling received payment for use of the vehicle from the players. If this occurred the players would not have received anything of monetary value because they would have paid for the use of the vehicle. Under NCAA Bylaw 16.01.1.1 this would result in an institutional violation, and the players would not lose any eligibility. Schmidling claims she was compensated financially for use of the vehicle. If the University of Oregon can prove or has documentation of money exchanging hands for use of Scmidling’s rental car then the players will likely be able to fall under this exception. and not suffer a loss of eligibility.
In light of this case, the Michael L. Buckner Law Firm recommends that institutions: a) educate student-athletes concerning NCAA awards and benefits legislation; b) educate university staff members (including those who work outside of the athletic department) concerning NCAA awards and benefits legislation; and c) ensure that written internal investigation policies and procedures are in place and followed if this type of incident should occur.