Thursday, March 25, 2010

NCAA's Final Judgment

Memphis crashes the Sweet Sixteen but not in a good way.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2010 at 4:00 AM

The latest attempt by the University of Memphis to lay the blame for its NCAA infractions on someone else is flopping, just like its earlier efforts did.

Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT college entrance examination, went by the book when it invalidated Derrick Rose's test in May 2008, after he twice failed to respond to letters warning that his eligibility was in jeopardy.

"We are legally prohibited from discussing the ongoing nature of an investigation without the test taker's written permission," said Tom Ewing, spokesman for ETS.

Rose never did that, and ETS, like the U of M, still can't even confirm that he is "the student athlete" in the basketball investigation. His repeated refusal to cooperate with ETS or the NCAA in 2008 and 2009, along with another infraction involving his brother's free travel, caused the NCAA to vacate the Tigers' 2007-2008 season records, hardware, banners, and tournament revenue.

The university argued that it never had proof that Rose had a stand-in take his test and that he was ruled ineligible after the fact. The NCAA said that the U of M "had reason to know of a serious problem regarding the student athlete's eligibility" as early as October 2007 — before the season — and that Rose declined to explain his scores, retake the test, or give a handwriting sample.

On Monday, U of M president Shirley Raines issued a prepared statement saying ETS should notify institutions of ongoing investigations involving student athletes and engage in more "open dialogue." She didn't say anything about Rose or former coach John Calipari engaging in open dialogue. Silent Cal issued a statement via the Internet saying he was sorry about the outcome and would not be making any more statements.

About the only person close to this story engaging in any open dialogue was U of M legal counsel Sheri Lipman. I asked her if Rose's four attempts to pass either the ACT or the SAT were cause for concern before he suited up as a Tiger. ETS says only small improvements can be expected, and a third of retesters do worse.

"From what I have seen, kids have lots of struggles with standardized tests," she said. "It's not unusual to try multiple times and get a little better each time. That, on its face, is not suspect."

I asked if a law student who repeatedly failed the bar exam before passing would be suspect. She said the bar exam more accurately reflects coursework than the SAT or ACT.

"There can be a real disconnect between what you do in your high school career and what is on the test," particularly in inner-city schools, she said.

Rose was interviewed by U of M officials in November 2007. The university investigated his scores on the ACT, which he took and failed three times in Chicago, and the SAT, which got him admitted. That test was taken in Detroit.

"We knew all the circumstances of the taking of the test," Lipman said. "The answers provided by the student-athlete were believed by everyone in the room."

Rose, of course, was gone after one season to the NBA's Chicago Bulls. He and the U of M were notified by ETS that his scores were canceled in May 2008. The NCAA sent a notice of inquiry — essentially a warning shot — in September 2008. On January 16, 2009, the U of M got a notice of NCAA allegations but did not make it public for three more months, while Calipari finished the season and subsequently landed a job at Kentucky. Rose declined several times to meet with the NCAA.

When the U of M formally responded last April, athletic director R.C. Johnson defiantly said the 2008 tournament banner would hang in FedExForum pending an appeal. The 2009-2010 basketball media guide features Rose on four of the first six pages and touts the 38 wins that occurred in his lone season.

These are not the actions of an athlete, coach, or university that feels contrite about the former direction of its basketball program. The NCAA is not dense. It usually goes easier on programs like USC, which self-reported its 2007-2008 basketball sins and preemptively vacated the season. The final judgment on the U of M came down in the middle of the NCAA Tournament, which Kentucky is favored to win.

Maybe it's a coincidence, or maybe it's a message.

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