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Kentucky Basketball: Jerry Tipton Attempts to Explain the NCAA Eligibility Process

Academic people can be confusing. (via <a href="">sara~</a>)
Academic people can be confusing. (via sara~)

Jerry Tipton, the redoubtable, frequently criticized, and often loathed Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnist tries to explain the NCAA eligibility process to the Big Blue Nation in the wake of revelations that the Alabama High School Athletic Association are conducting a preliminary inquiry into the Eric Bledsoe matter to see if it warrants further investigation.

First of all, I think Tipton does a creditable job on a subject that is bound to raise the hackles of many Wildcat fans.  I know that many of you think Tipton has it in for Kentucky, and I won't try to change your mind about that.  I know that some of you have it in for the NCAA, and I'm not trying to change you mind on that.  Rather, I intend to examine what he wrote and comment on it, and as usual, I invite you to do the same.

Tipton attempts to answer the question: "How can a school like UK face potential punishment for playing a player originally ruled eligible?"  To Tipton's credit, I think it is high time somebody looked into this question.  As usual, though, the answers leave the reader wanting more.

We have to read down through a recitation of background until we get to the meat of the article, which begins with this paragraph:

When asked how controversial this 180-degree change in status can be, NCAA spokesman Chuck Wynne said, "You have to remember their membership in the Eligibility Center. One of the reasons (schools) wanted it is they wanted more consistency and standardization in the decision-making process. And they wanted to get it out of an individual school's hands to make decisions."

I think most Kentucky fans would agree the concept behind this is laudable.  By removing the subjectivity of a school who wants a recruit from the decision making process to any degree, you reduce the probability that a given school will be able to overlook inconsistencies that should give them pause, or rationalize them away.

The article continues to explain that there are some 55 people at the NCAA Eligibility Center reviewing the information of around 90,000 prospective student athletes (PSA's) every year.  Even using Shelbyville math, that comes out to around 1636 transcripts per reviewer.  If each review takes an hour, the review process would take approximately 41 weeks.  Considering there are only 52 weeks in the year at least two of which must be vacation and other days off, that leaves only 9 weeks for "extensive" reviews and everything else.

Even a cursory check of an academic transcript would take 15-30 minutes at least, so it isn't hard to understand that the NCAA does not do an exhaustive review of many athletes, and it's easy to understand that the reviews done for most athletes is truly cursory.  The real purpose of this review is just to find records that should be reviewed more closely, i.e. "flagged," for a longer and more in-depth look, which Wynne says is done for "hundreds" of athletes every year.

As we know, Eric Bledsoe was one of the transcripts flagged for review, and understandably so due to a notable increase in his academic performance, which is one of the things that the NCAA looks for in its preliminary review.  Tipton's article also explains the extensive review process:

John Shukie, the NCAA's director of academic and membership services, said such transcripts are transferred from the Eligibility Center for the extensive review at the NCAA headquarters. The NCAA may ask for a statement from the athlete and from academic officials at the high school, he said.

The affected college can be involved. "A lot of times they act as a conduit, getting information from the high school, tracking down information from the student-athlete," Shukie said.

This makes sense.  The extensive review follows up on the issues flagged by the cursory review.  Shukie's comments indicate that Bledsoe would have been asked about his improvement, along with the school and possibly the coach.  Interestingly enough, Bledsoe's high school coach at the time, Maurice Ford, says that he has proof that Bledsoe did the work:

"This kid has proof of his work," said Ford, who coached a high school team from Huntsville, Ala., this past season. "We kept all of that (schoolwork) just in case."

Obviously, we'll know more after the AHSAA decides on whether to open a further investigation, but at this point, assuming Ford really does have documentation of Bledsoe's work that would satisfy the questioners, it seems that the NCAA would be hard pressed to declare Bledsoe ineligible for that reason.  But that is speculation, not fact.

Continuing with the NCAA outlook, things start to get dicey here:

When asked what he'd say to critics of a system that can punish college programs for playing a player initially ruled eligible, Wynne noted the objective of being fair to the school in question and its athletic opponents.

"If a certain nation in a Southern state that really loves basketball is upset, what we're concerned about is we have fairness across the board for everyone," Wynne said. "We don't have it in for anybody. What we're trying to do is make it fair for everybody."

Here is where Wynne's credibility begins to break down a bit with me.  He is suggesting that the NCAA process is so "fair," it doesn't take into account the profile of the recruit or the profile of the school recruiting him.

I'm not calling Wynne a liar here, but I am skeptical of this comment and I hope it is inaccurate, or at least, incomplete.  Think about it for a moment -- if the NCAA does not consider a recruit's profile or the NCAA compliance record of the school trying to offer him a scholarship, it is redolent of the idiocy of strip-searching little old Caucasian ladies when screening for terrorists

Wynne cannot be seriously suggesting that "violation profiling" is as off-limits as ethnic or racial profiling.  That would be absurd, and introduce even more inefficiency into a system that can afford none.  It is, for lack of a better word, incompetent.

Fairness is important, of course, but fairness does not require that you put on blinders and pick things at random.  If the NCAA wants to be taken seriously, they should consider all factors when determining the scope of the review they are doing.  Am I suggesting UK's recruits should be more closely looked at?  Well, maybe yes and maybe no -- UK has been clean of major violations for a long time now.  But should it consider the high profile of the recruit, and the high profile of UK?  Sure it should. That isn't unfair -- it's basic common sense.

But the bottom line is this:  If the NCAA is going to insert itself into the eligibility process this far, they have to be accountable for their decision.  What many are suggesting is that the Rose case proves that they will not accept responsibility for their decision, and that Bledsoe's multiple review is just like Rose's review.

That line of reasoning is mistaken.  The NCAA knows it cannot abjure responsibility for its decision and shift that responsibility to the school, no matter what anyone else tells you.  In every case, the blessing of third parties affect the validity of a finding of eligibility -- in the Rose case, it is ETS.  In the Bledsoe case, it is the Alabama high school education establishment.

What this means is that absent a finding by the AHSAA that Bledsoe was academically ineligible, or the ETS finds some impropriety in his college entrance exam, Bledsoe should be clear of a possible NCAA reversal on academic grounds.  This says nothing, however, about the other allegations in this case which are beyond the scope of this article.

Okay, I'm done.  Off to Myrtle Beach for vacation.  My next essay will be from there.