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Nate Oats' boat ride for two recruits runs afoul of NCAA rules

When Nate Oats and his family purchased a home on Grand Island last summer, it included a dock with a boat cover that fit a 50-foot yacht and was more than enough to fit a 300-horsepower, triple-hull pontoon boat the family owned.

"It's big enough, so we could have the team out," the former University at Buffalo men's basketball coach told The News last summer of the boat.

A boat trip to downtown Buffalo on a recruiting jaunt last July, however, put the UB men's basketball program up a creek without a paddle.

According to a case summary, obtained by The News through a Freedom of Information Law request, Oats provided boat transportation from his home to a restaurant in downtown Buffalo for two recruits.

It's a creative way to show off the area to someone who could potentially live in Western New York for four years – unless the NCAA might believe otherwise.

Oats, now the coach at Alabama, submitted a receipt for fuel for the boat trip, which caught the eye of UB's compliance office. Under the byzantine and sometimes mind-boggling NCAA rules, a boat trip isn't a form of transportation for recruiting visits. It's classified as entertainment.

While UB reported the oversight, the program won't be penalized for the Level III infraction; those types of infractions are generally regarded as minor mistakes by the NCAA. The penalty is usually additional rules education and a letter of admonishment.

But the interpretation of transportation versus entertainment illustrates the maze-like nature of NCAA rules that coaches and administrators have to follow during day-to-day operations in an athletic program.

For example, the Roanoke (Va.) Times reported in March that the Virginia Tech football team self-reported a secondary infraction in which an assistant coach had a conversation and took a photo with a prospective student-athlete. That constituted impermissible in-person, off-campus contact with a recruit prior to a permissible date during the winter contact period.

In 2014, the Oklahoman reported that the Oklahoma football program faced a secondary infraction after three Oklahoma football players ate too much pasta at a graduation banquet in 2013. The players donated less than $4 each to charity to cover the cost of pasta, to restore their eligibility. At the time, it was a violation of an NCAA bylaw that allows schools to provide athletes with "reasonable refreshments" from time to time for "celebratory events."

UB declined to comment on the NCAA secondary infractions.

It's safe to say that navigating a maze of organizational rules is a lot more complicated than a leisurely boat cruise of the Niagara River.

The case summary, however, did not reveal which restaurant Oats took the recruits to, but it didn't hurt in one instance. While not revealing the names of the recruits, the summary says one of them enrolled at UB.

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