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Kentucky Basketball: When Common Sense Doesn't Make Sense [UPDATED]

[This post has been significantly updated.  See the additional comments at the bottom after the jump]

I never could resist a good fight, especially a rhetorical one.  So today, I gird my loins for war.

Never in my life have I seen so many faux arguments and outright disinformation about any one subject as the Memphis situation over the last two days.  It absolutely boggles my mind.  Of course, most of it is simply "common sense" stuff, you know, those "facts" we all just know naturally?  Reality never needs to intrude, and neither do the facts of a case when we have "common sense" at our disposal.  Common sense obviates the need not only for facts but for reasoning, because when we apply that powerful method, facts only distract from the intuitively obvious.

I write about this because the Memphis situation has drawn a great deal of negative comment toward John Calipari, 99% of it unfair.  But before we take on Calipari's detractors at a later time, I think we should examine closely the situation that has drawn them all out from under their respective rocks.

We can see common sense flowing all throughout this post by Team Speed Kills.  In it, Cocknfire tells us:

Invalid test scores: Aren't valid. Really, UK fans, I'd love to be writing about anything but basketball right now. You see, the rest of us in this conference don't really care about basketball right now. There's a good number of us that don't ever care about basketball, but an SEC fan thinking about basketball in August is like a man thinking about tomorrow's television lineup while on a date with Jessica Alba.

Do you see how common sense works?  It forestalls any discussion by dismissing all but the most obvious.  But just because I'm a common sense skeptic, I'd like to ask a few questions, which follow after the jump.

To wit:

  • When were the test scores invalidated? 

    I think this is kind of important, don't you?  The test scores for the "player to be named later never," presumably one Derrick Rose, were invalidated by ETS after the season was over.  So why would anyone care about that?  I'll get there, I promise.

  • Was Rose actually eligible when he was playing basketball?

    Why, yes, he was.  Why was he?  Because the NCAA Clearinghouse decided he was academically qualified to enroll, and cleared him.  He played.  Memphis won games.  This is a matter of historical record and needs no further exposition.

  • When did Rose become ineligible?

    After the season was over.  That is also a matter of record.

  • Why was Rose's score invalidated?

    Apparently, it was administratively invalidated.  There is insufficient proof, as far as I know, for the ETS to invalidate the test score based on statistical or other variance with previous tests, or any other evidence of academic fraud.  In fact, the NCAA itself suggested it was Rose's "failure to cooperate" that resulted in the invalidation.

So what we have here are two recursions competing with each other.  It is beyond question that Derrick Rose was fully qualified and fully eligible when he competed in the games in question, because the NCAA Clearinghouse said so.  That's an important point that nobody seems to care about.  I'll say it again for emphasis:  Derrick Rose was 100% eligible at the time the games were held.

But the NCAA's argument, quite common sense really, is that the the fact of the test's invalidity rendered all games he played in subject to forfeit, because ... well, because it's okay for them to travel back through time and claim he was ineligible when he facially was not.  The idea here is that if all this "stuff" had been discovered up front, Rose would never have been cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, and ... well, you get the rest.  Recursion strikes hard, deep, and time is no barrier.

Ostensibly, the purpose of invalidating games in which an ineligible player participated is to right a wrong.  Virtually always, the player is ineligible due to academic fraud or amateurism issues.  This makes it quite reasonable to go back and call games in which they played into question, because the player or somebody on behalf of the player has to break the rules for this to happen.  Rulebreaking is bad, and we don't condone that in our society, nor here on A Sea of Blue.  Rulebreaking has consequences, and forfeiting wins is a most reasonable consequence for cheating.

Which brings us to the point that common sense could not get us to.  Rose was fully eligible during the time of competition.  He has been accused of cheating, but nobody in the NCAA is arguing that he was proven to be a cheater, or that the preponderance of the evidence indicates academic fraud.  Given that fact, it is also a fact that the raison d'être of the NCAA forcing a school to forfeit wins is to right a wrong, i.e. the totality of the moral imperative behind forfeiting wins virtually disappears when there is no rulebreaking.

In this case, so far as anyone knows, there was no rulebreaking.  There was, instead, an administrative issue that occurred after the season was over.  No rational person could dispute the fact that absent the rulebreaking, the moral imperative for punishment is no longer available.  It is also a fact, worth reiterating at the risk of sounding like a broken record, that Derrick Rose was 100% eligible at the time the games were won, and there is no actual proof of rulebreaking that would have rendered his test invalid prior to his enrollment at Memphis. 

That isn't to say that there is no evidence at all of academic fraud --there is.  Lea Ann Harmless, a handwriting expert, apparently told the ETS that her opinion was that the handwriting on Rose's test was likely to be someone else's.  We really don't have details on that, and as Ms. Harmless is an expert on the subject, we will not question her conclusion here.  It is real.  It is evidence.  It is not proof, and not sufficient in isolation even for the ETS to invalidate the test under its own rules.

None of this is common sense.  All of it is deductive reasoning, something that most of the critics in this case have failed to apply.  It is very facile, very "common sense," to say "Invalid test scores: Aren't valid" and put it in boldface type as though that forecloses all debate.  The very hubris implicit in that is gobsmacking, although not surprising -- common sense, you know, is fearless.

In the final analysis, here is how it all shakes out.  Rose is suspected of cheating, but that cheating cannot be proven by existing evidence.  ETS administratively invalidated his entrance exam not on the strength of evidence that Rose cheated, but because Rose was either unable or unwilling to respond to ETS' queries.  Rose was fully eligible by all applicable NCAA regulations when he was competing, and the NCAA Clearinghouse was the only reason for this fact.  Now the NCAA wants Memphis to forfeit wins ex post facto without the requisite moral imperative to right a wrong, as no wrong has been proven by either the NCAA or the Memphis investigation into the matter of Rose's entrance exam.

As a final aside which is only tangentially relevant, I must point out that the entire purpose of entrance exams is to gage the qualifications of prospective student athletes, and ensure that they are likely to be able to complete the academic requirements that go along with an athletic scholarship to a Division I university.  It is a fact, as far as I know, that Rose left Memphis in good standing, which means that he has shown the requisite academic acumen regardless of the validity of his entrance exam.

In the final analysis, the NCAA's actions with respect to Memphis men's basketball are not just, not fair, and the NCAA should grant Memphis' appeal.  And critics should really learn that deductive reasoning is not an oxymoron to be ignored in favor of common sense.


John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus provides a link to the NCAA's actual report about Memphis.  Two significant things come to light upon review:

  • That the NCAA considered the approximately $1,700 in unreimbursed expenses to Reggie Rose to have rendered Derrick Rose ineligible at the point they were received.  If that is consistent (and I have not checked this out) with other NCAA rulings in similar situations, then I agree with them.  Providing those additional benefits, even through oversight, is a wrong that should be redressed.  Assuming the penalty assessed (ineligibility and voiding of games) is consistent with previous rulings, I think that all but seven games of the Memphis season should be voided.
  • That the Memphis attorney stupidly agreed with the proposition that Rose was ineligible when the ETS invalidated his test.  That attorney should be fired for incompetence.  See my above detailed post for why I think that is so.

So in the end, it looks like the NCAA's actions, assuming the consistency I mention above, were more equitable than I previously thought.  There are seven games, in my opinion, which must be restored, but the final report (as final reports often do) make the decision look much more reasonable than their discussion of them at Memphis.

On appeal, it looks to me like Memphis can only hope to gain back seven games.  I'm not sure that is actually worth the effort, unless there is an inconsistency in how the NCAA applied the rule by which Rose was declared ineligible due to the impermissible benefits provided to his brother.  The fact that Rose's brother had a credit card on file which Memphis could have billed says to me this was probably an oversight, but even so, it was clearly a rules violation.  A wrong is a wrong.

Finally, this report suggests no wrongdoing on the part of the coach, as expected.  The continued attempt by many to impute wrongdoing to him just gets more hilarious.