NCAA red tape stalled University of Houston’s Harvey relief efforts

"They don’t want us sending all this nice gear to the top recruit in Houston."

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson talks with Galen Robinson Jr. (25) during a game. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson talks with Galen Robinson Jr. (25) during a game. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pat Sullivan

Corruption is an unfortunate element of college sports, but there’s a lot of good, too, and over the past couple of weeks that good has been on full display. After Hurricane Harvey decimated Houston and several other Texas communities, University of Houston men’s basketball coach Kelvin Sampson sent a message to his colleagues on Twitter to enlist their help.

“I came up with something I think coaches at all levels can help with,” Sampson said. He asked his fellow coaches at any level to send 20 school T-shirts and 10 pairs of shoes to the university, to be distributed to those who lost everything in the storm.

The reaction was more far-reaching than Sampson could have ever imagined. Tens of thousands of donations poured in from schools all over the country, and though he announced on August 29 that the school had reached its capacity for distributing the donations, that hasn’t stopped schools from continuing to send shirts and shoes throughout the week.

But if anyone knows how to ruin a heartwarming thing, it’s the NCAA.

As reported initially by KHOU 11 News on Thursday, it wasn’t just the overwhelming number of donations that was making distribution difficult, it was NCAA regulations.


“They don’t want us sending all this nice gear to the top recruit in Houston,” Lauren Dubois, senior associate athletics director for UH, told KHOU. “But, obviously that is not our intention at all.”

Because of NCAA’s strict recruiting guidelines, a Houston official providing anything to a prospective student-athlete or their family is considered a violation, and could leave UH open for punishment. Sampson, who has been in trouble for violating NCAA recruiting regulations in the past, clearly wanted to be careful. So for days truckloads of brand-new clothes and shoes sat in boxes in trucks outside of the school, just waiting to be distributed.

Thankfully, the NCAA announced on Saturday that it had granted Houston a disaster relief waver, meaning the school was permitted to donate to anyone in need.

But Gary Parrish of CBS Sports reports that UH wasn’t actually given the go-ahead to freely distribute the donations until late Friday afternoon, 10 days after Sampson’s tweet asking for clothes and shoes first went viral. As Parrish notes, this was yet another completely avoidable PR problem of the NCAA’s own making.


“To be clear, I knew the moment I saw the story that the NCAA would eventually give Houston permission to do whatever it wanted to do, if only because it would’ve been ridiculous not to,” Parrish wrote. “But here’s my question: Why let this become a story in the first place? Why not be proactive?”

The good news is that the red tape has finally been cut, and the donations continue to arrive. Sampson says he’s been overwhelmed by the support and generosity he’s witnessed.

“Some (letters) made you cry too,” Sampson said. “We have a letter from a high school that said we only had four pairs of shoes we could send you. Come on now, you think about that.”