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August 24, 2009

Changing NCAA Standards: Is Kansas Next?

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:54 am

At the 2004 Final Four, NCAA Vice President of Enforcement David Price was asked why Duke‘s 1999 Final Four trip hadn’t been vacated, even though Corey Maggette had long since admitted that he had received cash as a high school player. As noted this weekend by Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Price responded at that time as follows:

The standard for that is whether either the institution knew or should have known that Maggette was ineligible or if Maggette himself knew that–or should have known that he was ineligible. After a lengthy investigation, we came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to determine that Maggette knew or should have known, and we believe firmly that the institution did not know and should not have known.

[emphasis added] 

My how times have changed. Memphis sent their lawyers to appear before the Committee on Infractions on June 6 of this year. The lawyers were there to say their school could never have known in advance that in May of 2008 Derrick Rose would, in effect, be rendered retroactively ineligible for the 2007-08 season when his SAT was invalidated by Educational Testing Service (ETS). Here is what ensued:

COMMITTEE MEMBER: We have situations that come up from time to time before this committee where something is learned after the fact, such as a person actually played sports at another institution. Nobody knew, but that person didn’t have eligibility remaining, so they were ineligible. If you have a test score that is invalidated, you didn’t have the scores to be admitted to begin with. Where am I wrong?

[snip]

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: That’s correct. We haven’t contested that.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: Okay. So he was ineligible?

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Yes; yes, sir. The university was not aware at the time he was ineligible.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I didn’t suggest that they were.

UNIVERSITY LEGAL COUNSEL: Okay.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: I am not saying they cheated. I am saying this young man was not eligible to participate.

[emphases added]   

I excerpted some of the same verbiage on Friday to illustrate that, despite a legion of braying pundits out for John Calipari‘s blood, the Committee on Infractions at least had a rationale for what they did: vacate the season without alleging knowledge aforethought.

That may have been the correct decision rule in this particular case. But Parrish has shown that rules change. He therefore wonders why, in light of their ruling last week on Memphis, the NCAA somehow never got around to vacating Duke’s 1999 season.

A much better, more symmetrical, and more timely question, of course, is whether Kansas shouldn’t be forced to vacate its 2008 national championship. For the purposes of any rule-making body, the two teams that appeared in that year’s national championship game are categorically identical.   

Derrick Rose was never really eligible in the first place? I’m OK with that. (Ignore all writers who adopt the outraged “go back in time” and “they can’t erase memories” memes. We go back in time and erase memories every day of the week. If there’s point-shaving, steroids, or cash payments involved, no one raises a finger against retroactive justice.)  

But by that same standard, KU’s Darrell Arthur was never eligible either. His high school had to vacate a state championship won during his junior year due to failing grades that were changed after-the-fact on his behalf. The high school diploma he presented for admission to Kansas was, for NCAA Clearinghouse purposes, as dubious as Rose’s SAT. 

Of course, no one can prove Kansas knew Arthur was ineligible. (I think it unlikely KU had any clue.) Then again no one can prove Memphis knew that Rose was ineligible. (I think it likely the powers that be in the Fed Ex Forum did know, “or should have known.”)

I’m not criticizing the NCAA’s new standard. Maybe it’s best that coaches on the recruiting circuit probe a little deeper and step a little more warily. Maybe the new standard is the way to go.

But it has to be a uniform standard. If Memphis has to vacate its 2007-08, so does Kansas. Conversely, if Kansas is able to keep its national championship, Memphis has to be allowed to keep its 38 wins and Final Four appearance.

I said on Friday that the appeal Memphis has vowed to mount is doomed and, seen by its own lights, it should be. The University is on the record as agreeing that Rose was indeed ineligible. But, done right, the Memphis appeal could jeopardize KU’s national championship. Memphis could lose the appeal but win the argument regarding a uniform standard.

When they present their appeal to the NCAA, a well prepared Memphis lawyer should open his or her presentation with this:

You have situations that come up from time to time before this committee where something is learned after the fact, such as a person actually failed algebra and theater in high school but their grades were later changed without the teachers’ knowledge. Nobody knew, but that person didn’t have eligibility to start with, so they were ineligible. Where am I wrong?

Just a thought. 

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