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Kentucky Basketball: Eric Bledsoe Under Invesitgation by the NCAA

According to Andy Katz at ESPN, the circumstances surrounding Eric Bledsoe's recruitment are under investigation by the NCAA.

Katz's report is based on this New York Times article, which contains several allegations from witnesses involved in Bledsoe's time in high school that raise legitimate concerns about Bledsoe's performance, but even more importantly, allegations of impropriety that involve his high school coach paying his mother's rent, which would be an impermissible benefit under the NCAA regulations.  Here are a couple of the relevant paragraphs, but be sure to read the whole thing:

¶Brenda Axle, the landlord for the house where Bledsoe and his mother moved for his senior year of high school, said that Bledsoe’s high school coach paid her at least three months’ rent, or $1,200. By moving there, Bledsoe was eligible to play for Parker, which he led to the Alabama Class 5A title game. Maurice Ford, the coach, denied paying the money.

¶A copy of Bledsoe’s high school transcript from his first three years reveals that it would have taken an improbable academic makeover — a jump from about a 1.9 grade point average in core courses to just under a 2.5 during his senior year — for Bledsoe to achieve minimum N.C.A.A. standards to qualify for a scholarship.

There is more.  An anonymous NCAA coach claims that Bledsoe's high school coach informed him it would take money to recruit Eric Bledsoe, and a specific amount was named.

So there you see the allegations as The Times reports them.  There is a ton of amplifying information in the article, and if the allegations are true, this will mean big trouble for Kentucky, even if UK is entirely innocent in the entire affair.  I'll explain all this after the jump.

Before we go on, let's sum up what we know.  Right now, what we have are allegations and no facts.  We have people claiming several things relevant to Bledsoe:

  • His mother's rent was paid at various times by his high school coach during his junior and/or senior year in high school;
  • His transcript shows a significant jump in performance after a school change from one public school to another, and the school he wound up attending was not the school he would have been slated to attend after his previous school closed;
  • A college coach, hereforeto unnamed, alleges that Bledsoe's high school coach demanded a specific sum of money to recruit Bledsoe.  Exactly what this sum was, or how that process was supposed to work, is unknown.

None of these allegations involve Kentucky whatsoever.  Eric Bledsoe's transcript and ACT score passed the scrutiny of the NCAA Clearinghouse (does this sound familiar?) and Sandy Bell's peerless review.  He was academically eligible after two semesters at UK to return to school, so he paid at least enough attention to his classwork while at UK to remain eligible.

But unfortunately, even if UK's compliance with NCAA rules was beyond any possible reproach, there will be consequences if either the allegation of money paid to his mother in the form of rent or the suspicion of academic fraud vis-a-vis grade inflation turn out to be true.

What are the consequences?  Simply this.  The NCAA, in the Memphis matter, took a "strict liability" approach to the participation of an ineligible athlete.  If Eric Bledsoe is declared ineligible to have participated in athletics at Kentucky by virtue of either academic impropriety or impermissible benefits, they will be required to vacate all of the games that UK won that Eric Bledsoe participated in.  As far as I recall, that was all of them save maybe one.

So what does this mean about John Calipari?  Well, it would be a tragic blow to his reputation, and a totally unfair one unless he knew something about the matters under investigation.  It isn't as though Kentucky and Memphis were the only school to offer Bledsoe a scholarship -- so did the Florida Gators, Cincinnati Bearcats and Alabama Crimson Tide.  The Duke Blue Devils also heavily recruited Bledsoe, but did not offer him a scholarship.  So lots of compliance officers got a look at his transcript, it would appear. [Update:  The part about the compliance officers may not be right.  Bledsoe's high school coach said that he did not release Bledsoe's transcript except in the event of an official visit, and his Rivals page does not indicate he took any, so please consider that last sentence speculation.]

Of course, Calipari's actual culpability makes no difference to his detractors, but if we aren't used to that yet, we are truly doomed.  I am not vindicating Calipari here, make no mistake -- he may well have known about some of these allegations, and if he did know about them, there should be consequences to his employment.  We should not be recruiting players who may wind up found in pre-college violations of NCAA guidelines, and if there were warning signs that Calipari should have heeded, particularly after the Rose affair, that will be a major problem in my eyes, and in the eyes of many UK fans.

Nobody wants Calipari or any other UK coach not to recruit a legitimate college prospect.  But these prospects must be carefully vetted for possible NCAA compliance issues before offering them an opportunity to attend UK, not after.  After a five-star player accepts an invitation to play, it is bound to be tougher to back off that if something potentially troubling is discovered. 

I am certain that Sandy Bell reviewed the facts surrounding Bledsoe's recruitment before allowing the scholarship to be offered or the player to be enrolled.  That tells me that either information she received was good enough for her blessing, or she was deceived.  If the latter, heads must roll.  I am completely confident in Sandy Bell's reputation and thoroughness, and I also believe Coach Calipari was completely honest in this affair, at this point, and there is absolutely no evidence otherwise.

But even if Kentucky and Calipari are completely blameless, if Bledsoe was ineligible to come to Kentucky, there may be consequences to the University, and those consequences may involve having to get to 2000 wins all over again.

Sometimes, life isn't fair.  This could well be one of those times.  Hang on to your butts.