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September 28, 2010
September 23, 2010
I like Jay Bilas a lot. He chipped in with the Foreword for our book last year. He consistently writes very interesting things about college basketball. Most importantly, he’s very funny at roasts of Bob Knight.
This week Jay proposed that the NCAA get out of the academic eligibility business entirely, saying that schools can decide for themselves whom to admit. He proposed the same thing last year and I responded. Now he has re-proposed it and, after consulting with you, the reader, I have decided to re-respond. If Jay proposes the same thing again tomorrow I’ll have to challenge him to a game of HORSE or maybe a showdown on “Dancing with the Stars.”
One can ask, as Jay does, what bloody difference does it make if Eric Bledsoe‘s high school GPA was a 2.5 or a 2.3? Either way Kentucky should be able to decide whether or not to enroll him as a student, right? Of course that’s right. Literally no one, to my knowledge, is saying otherwise.
But we’re not talking about Kentucky enrolling Bledsoe as a student, we’re talking about UK giving him 1122 minutes of playing time on their basketball team. And I worry that Jay leads otherwise alert readers astray with tricky sentences like: “Member institutions are perfectly capable of making admission and eligibility decisions on their own.” That “and” spans a world of difference. This isn’t about admission. It’s about eligibility.
More: “[N]o school or association of schools should tell another autonomous institution who to admit, educate, or provide a uniform.” (Whoa, don’t tread on Jay!) Again, delete “admit” and “educate.” Those aren’t what we’re talking about. What are we left with? Something like: No school or association of schools should tell another autonomous institution whom they can put in uniform.
I don’t believe Jay really believes this because, well, no one really believes this. To cite only the most obvious example, any association of schools should absolutely tell Duke or any other autonomous institution that they can’t provide uniforms this year to LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Those guys are off-limits.
The question is not whether to have uniform minimum eligibility requirements across schools but rather what they should be. I suppose you could argue that, well, the “minimum” standard should actually be a 0.0 GPA, and that anyone who who’s good enough on the court should be allowed to play D-I basketball. If that’s your pet cause, have at it. As for myself I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the NCAA in my day, but I confess I’ve never once heard: “These college basketball players are being held to an academic standard that’s just too darn high!”
Lastly, if schools are truly as worked up about their own autonomy as Bilas seems to be on their behalf, well, there’s the door. You’ll find MIT and the University of Chicago, among others, on the other side of it. You can of course opt out of NCAA-sanctioned competition in revenue sports anytime you wish if these sky-high academic standards are just too elitist and onerous.
BONUS book plug! Dear NCAA: I just came to your defense. Please remember that when you read “The Trouble with Amateurism” in the 2010-11 College Basketball Prospectus this fall.
Dear everyone else: In said book you’ll find Prospectus-level previews of every team in D-I. And wait until you see who we got for the Foreword this year.
September 14, 2010
This morning the Birmingham News reported that former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe was the happy beneficiary of a high-school algebra grade that improved from a C on the instructor’s grade report form to an A on Bledsoe’s transcript. The A was enough, barely, to make Bledsoe eligible for D-I basketball. Also looking into this case are outside lawyers hired by the Birmingham school district, as well as the NCAA.
Just in the past couple seasons the NCAA has built up enough case law, for lack of a better term, for us to throw around some learned conjecture regarding what might happen next. At root there are three possibilities:
1. Nothing happens. Obviously if there’s an innocent explanation for the grade change, then everyone–Bledsoe, the school district, the NCAA–will go about their business. Bledsoe’s algebra instructor told the News that the A was in fact the correct grade.
2. The Darrell Arthur scenario. The lawyers come back and say the explanation for the grade change isn’t innocent after all, but the school district leaves Bledsoe’s diploma alone. And if Bledsoe still has a valid high school diploma in place, then the NCAA leaves Kentucky’s 2009-10 season on the books. The precedent here is supplied by former Kansas forward Darrell Arthur. The Texas state championship that Arthur’s high school team won his junior year had to be forfeited after it was discovered that Arthur had failing grades changed after the fact. The Dallas Independent School District, however, chose not to revoke Arthur’s high school diploma. In light of Arthur’s continued possession of the required credential, he was eligible to play D-I ball and thus the Jayhawks’ 2008 national championship still stands. (On a side note, I have no problem with the NCAA vacating seasons but I would be appalled by a school district nullifying a diploma that they had previously awarded. A better solution would surely be to tell Bledsoe or Arthur or whomever: This transcript looks fishy, so you have one year to pass this class for real. Not that a first-round pick cares about his high school diploma. Just stating it for the record.)
3. The Derrick Rose scenario. If on the other hand the Birmingham school district were to declare Bledsoe’s diploma invalid–just like the Educational Testing Service declared former Memphis guard Derrick Rose‘s SAT score invalid–then in the NCAA’s eyes Bledsoe was never eligible to begin with. Kentucky played an ineligible player, and thus the 2009-10 season never happened.
The key point underlying both 2 and 3 is that the pivotal decisions could presumably be made by the Birmingham school district, not by the NCAA. Indeed in both the Arthur and the Rose cases the NCAA took the position that, in effect, their hands were tied even as they reached diametrically opposed results, letting the 2008 Kansas season stand but vacating the 2008 Memphis season.
September 12, 2010
On Friday Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said that he lied to the NCAA. Pearl met with investigators in June and now he says that he didn’t tell them the whole truth about how many phone calls he placed when to which recruit (or recruits).
Maybe Pearl called Josh Selby (who at one time committed to the Volunteers but later changed his mind) when he wasn’t supposed to. Or perhaps the coach made too many calls. Pearl might even have been using a second non-official cell to place calls. All we know for sure is that Pearl’s been docked $1.5 million in salary over the next five years by Tennessee.
If nothing else the school has earned marks for speed, having only received their Notice of Inquiry from the NCAA this week. (Thus the answer to John Clay‘s question–why isn’t Pearl being suspended like Dez Bryant?–is simple: He might be, by the NCAA. The investigation is, as they say, ongoing.) Then again if you’re like me you’re starting to get a little suspicious of the alacrity with which football schools preemptively punish their basketball programs when their football teams are under investigation. (See also USC.)
Be that as it may, Pearl’s in the news for coming forward with the goods on himself–this from perhaps the sport’s most noteworthy “whistleblower.” Two decades ago when Pearl was an assistant at Iowa, he went to the NCAA with information, including a taped phone call, that he said proved Illinois had offered a car and cash in order to land Deon Thomas. The ability of that case to insinuate itself back into the headlines again and again over the years can only be termed Sam Gilbert-like. It’s amazing. Back then, however, it seemed like something that everyone involved in would simply rather forget. Thomas became the all-time scoring leader at Illinois, but the case dogged him continually. Illinois was investigated by the NCAA, which found no evidence to support Pearl’s charges but did find a lack of institutional control. And Pearl, as you’ve heard, was “blacklisted” and exiled to D-II Southern Indiana.
And here’s where the story begins to go off track a bit. Blacklisted? On the one hand when voice of the fraternity Dick Vitale says you’ve committed career “suicide,” it sure doesn’t sound good. On the other hand there are at any given time well over a thousand people employed in some capacity as D-I coaching personnel. Pearl, coming off an appearance in the 2010 Elite Eight as the head coach at an SEC program, has clearly had a career that would place him in the 98th or 99th percentile of his profession in terms of success. I don’t doubt that Pearl’s big break came later than he would have liked, nor that his actions cost him some goodwill among his fellow coaches. But coaches aren’t the ones doing the hiring. Athletic directors are, and when ADs at Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2001) and Tennessee (2005) thought Pearl was the best choice, they hired him, brazenly flouting the ukase from Dickie V. The blacklisted Pearl has done better than nine out of every ten un-blacklisted coaches. That is most certainly a tribute to Pearl’s ability and perseverance, but it’s also an indication that the term “blacklist” is being abused.
Speaking of abused terms, whistleblower? Maybe it’s because I’m an Illinois grad, but if Frank Serpico had gone to the authorities with evidence of wrongdoing by the New York Mafia, or if Karen Silkwood had gone to the New York Times with evidence of wrongdoing by anti-nuclear activists, I don’t think their stories would be quite so heroic. I thought the whole point was that they were blowing the whistle on their own organizations and thus putting themselves at immediate risk. Pearl on the other hand went to the NCAA with information about a Big Ten rival–information that, if proven true, would be extremely harmful to a program that he competed with for recruits. After he provided that information he stayed at his job for another two years and then left to take a head-coaching gig in D-II.
Perhaps Pearl was motivated to go to the NCAA purely by a desire for cleaner college hoops, or maybe he was driven solely by competitiveness. Possibly it was a mix of both. But my queasiness with the term “whistleblower” as applied here has nothing to do with Pearl’s motives, which I can’t know, and everything to do with his position at that time and his methods, which we all know. If Pearl had started a nonprofit in 1989 called Citizens for Clean College Hoops and had come forward with Thomas’s knowledge and verification, maybe I could contribute to a statue. Instead, he was a coach at a competing program who called a teenager and secretly taped their conversation. If others can find a profile in courage in that sequence of events, so be it.
Which brings me back to Friday. If you’ve ever shouted at a politician caught in a scandal of his or her own making to stop stonewalling and equivocating and just step up and tell the truth already, well, maybe we just saw Pearl do it. Sure, you can say he knew he was going to face the music anyway (though we don’t know that’s true, yet), but even that level of awareness–much less the courage to act on it–would place Pearl’s performance far above that of many people who have walked this particular mile in his shoes. More to the point I have shouted at universities to stop stonewalling and equivocating and just step up and say, “We’ve received a Notice of Inquiry from the NCAA.” If what Pearl says happened really did happen, he’s praiseworthy not simply because he told the truth long before many people in his position do. He’s laudable because he told the truth at all. Others who’ve been dealt these same cards go to their professional exiles still loudly proclaiming their innocence. If the facts hold up, I’ll be OK with the praise coming Pearl’s way in 2030 for this one.