In addition to determining when to reinstate the three basketball players suspended for shoplifting in China last week, UCLA still has to make one other tricky call pertaining to the incident.
School administrators must decide who will pay for the expenses LiAngelo Ball, Jalen Hill and Cody Riley incurred while detained for eight days in Hangzhou.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said Wednesday that the school paid a total of approximately $2,200 in bail after Chinese police released Ball, Hill and Riley from custody eight days ago. Chinese authorities have since refunded the bail money, but UCLA is still on the hook for the thousands of dollars it spent feeding and housing the players for a week in a lakeside hotel in Hangzhou, obtaining legal counsel for them and flying them home to Los Angeles.
“UCLA provided the necessary resources to secure the timely release and safe return of the student-athletes,” Guerrero said Wednesday as part of a prepared statement to reporters. “We now have the task of working to reconcile who is ultimately responsible for the costs incurred, in addition to addressing any NCAA implications.”
The first issue UCLA must examine is whether any of the money it spent violated NCAA rules forbidding universities from providing benefits to athletes that are not available to regular students. An NCAA spokeswoman did not immediately return a message from Yahoo Sports seeking comment, but three current or former compliance directors offered their perspective on which expenses could pose potential problems and what options UCLA has.
All three compliance sources said UCLA is allowed to cover the players’ hotel fees, meals and return flight because the NCAA classifies those as “actual and necessary” expenses on a trip like this. The Bruins were in China to open their season against Georgia Tech last Saturday as part of the Pac-12’s initiative to increase the league’s visibility in Asia.
What could be more problematic for UCLA is the players’ legal fees. If the families of the players don’t reimburse the school, all three compliance sources said UCLA will need to either ask for a waiver from the NCAA or seek to pay that expense with money from the Student Assistance Fund, which draws from the NCAA’s multibillion-dollar media-rights deals.
The purpose of the little-known Student Assistance Fund is to assist athletes and their families with “financial needs that arise in conjunction with participation in intercollegiate athletics,” an intentionally vague definition that gives schools plenty of wiggle room to decide how to distribute the money. The only clear-cut rules are that money from the fund is not intended to replace existing budget items, to pay for capital improvements or to serve as a salary or stipend for athletes.
“It was created to help kids in an emergency,” a compliance director at a power-conference school said. “The ethical question would be do you want to spend that money on a kid who did something wrong?”
Had the bail money not been already reimbursed by Chinese authorities, the compliance sources would have viewed it similarly to the players’ legal fees. They believe UCLA would have required a waiver from the NCAA or would have needed to dip into the Student Assistance Fund.
While UCLA seemingly has options if it wants to cover the expenses incurred by Ball, Riley and Hill, the university is certainly under no obligation to go that route. School officials could demand the families of the three players reimburse them and threaten a lawsuit if they don’t.
The price of a basic room at the Hangzhou hotel where the players were confined for a week ranges from $179 to $254 per night before tax. It’s unclear how much meals from the luxury hotel’s four bars or restaurants might have cost, but a nonstop flight from Shanghai to Los Angeles likely cost between $400 to $600 per person.
While those expenses could be hard to stomach for the families of Hill and Riley, the Ball family surely wouldn’t have too much trouble covering it. LiAngelo’s older brother, Lonzo, just signed a four-year, $33 million contract with the Lakers in July. LiAngelo’s father, LaVar, also recently gave ESPN a tour of his new 16,000-square-foot house in Chino Hills, Calif.