Report: NCAA Expanding Inquiry Into Nerlens Noel

Pete Thamel, late of the New York Times and now at Sports Illustrated, says the NCAA is expanding its inquiry into Noel. (via SportsAngle.com)

The headline is scary, I know, but before you panic, take a deep breath. This is what is being reported, but we do have to consider the source is Pete Thamel in his new digs at Sports Illustrated.

What Thamel thinks he knows is that the NCAA has made a second trip to New Hampshire's Tilton school, where Noel played his high school basketball:

The NCAA has expanded its inquiry into Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, one of the nation's top recruits in the class of 2012, as two NCAA enforcement officials traveled to Noel's New Hampshire prep school for a three-hour meeting in early August. The NCAA's questions focused on the cast of characters that surrounded Noel's recruitment and how Noel paid for his unofficial visits, according to a person with knowledge of the NCAA inquiry.

Unnamed sources always give us a headache, but there is no reason to believe that this report is inaccurate. The NCAA had an earlier meeting with Tilton officials and other people up in New Hampshire, and it could be that some questions were not answered to their satisfaction, or were held in abeyance pending this meeting. It is also possible that this is in fact, as Thamel suggests, an escalation. At this point, whether this represents an actual expansion or merely a continuation of the existing inquiry is not as clear to me as it seems to be to Thamel.

What made the NCAA's visit to Tilton intriguing is that a senior Kentucky official, UK chief compliance officer Sandy Bell, accompanied Merrill and Smith for the meeting. Bell didn't ask many questions, according to the source, but did take notes and spoke up occasionally. The presence of two NCAA enforcement officials and Bell gives the appearance that this case has gone beyond the routine checking of top prospects, according to one former NCAA investigator.

I would not put too much stock into this hyperventilation. Bell's presence may be a normal part of UK's compliance efforts, especially considering that Noel has enrolled in UK, so it makes sense for her to be included if there are questions about Noel's initial eligibility. Furthermore, I would think the NCAA would have to invite her for her to be included. Even the NCAA says that such involvement by the school's compliance office is not unusual:

The NCAA cannot comment directly on Noel's case, but a spokesman said that, generically speaking, "the enforcement staff has discretion whether to involve institutions in off-campus interviews." The spokesman added: "The practice is discretionary and not unusual."

So much for the "...appearance that this case has gone beyond ..." stuff. It's always dangerous to try to read the mind of the NCAA, but I, for one, feel much more comfortable with Bell involved in the process. It gives me reason to believe that if anything does turn out to be problematic, it will be handled before it impacts UK.

High profile recruits often draw a lot of NCAA scrutiny, and if we aren't used to this by now after having to deal with the John Wall and Anthony Davis mouth-breathing, we never will be. I have confidence in our coaching staff, and absolute confidence in our compliance staff.

Obviously, if Noel is declared ineligible to play a major portion of the season, that really puts Kentucky's season in a different light, and we'd have to revise our expectations. Also, it would be unfair and inaccurate to say I'm not concerned, because if the NCAA is looking into something like this, there is a reason, and Noel is known to have some hangers-on who are likely to have piqued the NCAA's interest, as the article points out.

Once again, Thamel is clearly taking a side in this case, and attempting to make it more sensational than the facts seem to support. I wish he'd keep the spin out of his reporting and give us the facts, but I suppose that's too much to ask. You can get any opinion you want from unnamed former NCAA officials, of which there are probably a thousand or more. All you have to do is ask enough of them leading questions, and you can get something spooky in return.

We all know that John Calipari represents the Moby Dick that every Ahab like Thamel is dying to get a harpoon in, and to be honest, it's hard to blame them. After all, Thamel and his ilk have hopes and dreams of growing up to become real reporters someday.

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