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Kentucky Basketball: Is USC a Cautionary Tale for Kentucky?

The NCAA -- a model of fairness.
The NCAA -- a model of fairness.

Greetings to all, and apologies for the extended absence.  I decided that I needed a vacation not only from the real world but the cyber-reality of the blog.  But I am back home after a very pleasant stay in Cherry Grove, SC, and ready to get back to work.

This article by Jerry Tipton got me to thinking, particularly this part:

Attorney Michael L. Buckner, who earlier this spring said that Kentucky either knew or should have known about questions involving then prospect Eric Bledsoe, sees thorough research as preventative medicine. Learn all you can about a prospect in order to make an informed decision about whether to recruit the player. Or to be armed with answers should the NCAA come forward later with questions.

Well, after reading multiple articles about the Bledsoe situation, I am confident UK was aware of the academic red flags, especially given recent articles that suggest it is the schools who flag academic questions for the the NCAA Clearinghouse.  Clearly, Kentucky was aware that the marked improvement in Bledsoe's scores would raise eyebrows at the Clearinghouse, so I am confident that UK did know about that.

Insofar as the allegations of money changing hands between the coach and Bledsoe's mother's landlord, it is actually possible that they knew about that as well, although I really have no idea if they did or not.  That boils down to  a "he said, she said," and unless proof of the alleged rent payments can be made beyond the simple fact of one person's word, it is possible that UK knew and decided the risk was worth it.  Your mileage may vary on that conclusion, if it actually happened.

Buckner essentially says that schools should pay third parties for this investigative service, which according to the article cost between $1,500 and $10,000 (described by Tipton as "tip money").  I don't want to beat anyone up on this, but where I come from, that comment makes no sense.  Tipton's article reads as much like an advertisement for third-party investigations as anything else, and while he may be right in a broad sense, I don't think the way he approached this added much to his credibility as an unbiased reporter.  Anyone can agree that it may be a good idea, on occasion, to pay a third party to help.  But given the type of players that Calipari is recruiting, we might as well hire the guy full-time at a significant discount.

No matter what, paying thousands of dollars to third parties to investigate a recruit's background seems awfully intrusive to me, and well beyond a reasonable definition of due diligence.  I understand Sandy Bell and staff have a lot of compliance issues to deal with, but one wonders if a $10,000 investment in a player investigation is over the top.  Multiply some fraction of that number by the number of scholarship athletes in a Division I athletic program, and it starts to add up to real money (although I think $10,000 is "real money," but I admit to being cheap).

Another interesting quote from the piece was this:

That experience led Buckner to appreciate some prep schools and wonder if the NCAA's effort had flaws. He said the NCAA was "ignoring, intentionally I think, public schools because they don't want to deal with the politics involved."

This becomes troubling and reassuring at the same time.  Troubling in that this is clearly an inequity in the recently touted fairness principles of the NCAA, and reassuring in the sense that Bledsoe attended a public school when the questioned improvements took place.  The politics of that, it would seem, is little different from what Buckner described as a fly in the NCAA's proverbial ointment investigating "diploma factories."

In any event, I think Tipton is right that the USC situation should serve as a cautionary tale, not just to UK but to all high-profile Division I programs. 

I just don't think he said it particularly well, and looked somewhat biased in his piece.  Nowhere was there a quote or even an intimation that he asked for a quote from UK on the matter, or any other person to share the perspective of UK or any other university.

I would have thought that perspective was important.  Maybe it's just me.