Memphis Appealing NCAA Decision, but Is that Enough?

Leroy Watson Jr.Senior Writer IAugust 22, 2009

I have never been more disappointed in the University of Memphis basketball program than I am right now.


I feel as if, after all these years, the childlike innocence and blue-tinted glasses have been violently stripped from me.


I’m embarrassed by the role that Memphis fans unwittingly played in the entire ruse.


The NCAA’s hands are scarlet-stained, as well.


And I will never be the same again.


The University of Memphis has basically stipulated to the facts in the latest scandal to rock the school: the Derrick Rose SAT score fiasco.


It is alleged that Rose had someone else take his SAT for him in Detroit on May 5, 2007.


The NCAA Committee on Infractions might have redacted his name in the original documents that they disseminated, and referred to him as “student athlete 1” in their summary report, but no one in the country believes it’s anybody else but Rose.


It has been established and accepted that the student-athlete involved was on the Tiger roster only during the 2007-’08 season; no other member of the program fit that description except Rose.


So, exactly what do we know, what do we not know, and why is it all so distasteful to the author?


Why should anybody really care?


Here, to my eye, is what we know for certain:


The University of Memphis is appealing the penalties assessed on the men’s basketball program by the NCAA Infractions Committee.


“We know the rules,” intoned U of M president Shirley Raines. “We did our due diligence. We did everything we could to determine the student-athlete was eligible and that the rules were being followed. That is the basis for our appeal.”


Notice what was said and what was not said. Dr. Raines said that the school had done everything possible to make certain that Derrick Rose was eligible.


If you read the entire transcript of her press conference here, you will read a polished piece of spin that could fool the uninitiated, or anyone who really does not want to dig beneath the surface for the truth.


The kind of person that I have been up until now.


Comb through the entire statement, though, and never once does Dr. Shirley Raines emphatically state that “student-athlete 1” took his own SAT.


Perhaps R. C. Johnson, the Director of Athletics, would address the root issue, and talk about Rose’s test score?


No, he did not. He, like Dr. Raines, stipulated that the secondary issue—impermissible benefits to Rose by paying his brother’s travel and lodging expenses for three road trips—was an administrative error, that the school performed their due diligence in regard to the athlete’s eligibility, and that the penalties levied were too harsh.


Yeah, R. C., but did Rose take his own SAT? Did the school, at any point in time, do anything more than simply ask the young man that question?


Check Johnson’s statement for yourself; perhaps I missed something.


University General Counsel, Sheryl Lipman, said even less than either of her two employers, and certainly shed no particular light on the matter with her brief sound bite.


I watched the presser that followed, and when one of the members of the media point blank asked, “Are you reasonably sure that Derrick Rose took the SAT for himself?” the damning silence that ensued was both awkward and telling.


No one sitting at the U of M’s table directly addressed the question. There was more rambling about “due diligence,” but nothing close to a “yes” or a “no.”


So, we know that the NCAA is ordering the return of proceeds from the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the wiping out of all wins (38), records, and accomplishments by the coach (John Calipari) and team, and the removal by the school of all vestiges of the season in the school record books, in the media guide, and at the practice facilities and home court.


What we still do not know is: what did Derrick Rose do (or not do), and when did the University of Memphis find out about it? Once they found out, what did they do?


Going back in time a little further, it is a now-known fact that the U of M was made aware that there was a potential problem with Derrick Rose’s SAT results on Oct. 25, 2007 by the Inspector General of the Board of Education of the City of Chicago (IG), just days before the new basketball season was scheduled to commence.


Now, the NCAA re-enters the picture, as Dr. Raines made a telling statement:


“The student was cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center twice—routinely before the season, and, again, after we reported a high school grade change, which did not affect his eligibility.”


So that means that the hot potato was dropped twice: once by the school, but also by the NCAA.


It seems that everyone involved was willing to turn a blind eye.


The University of Memphis was in no hurry to rule Derrick Rose ineligible, pending a true investigation into the matter.


The NCAA Clearinghouse, which was created in 1993 as the NCAA Initial-Eligibility (I’m not making that up; see page two here), is supposed to “provide consistent interpretation of NCAA initial eligibility requirements for student-athletes.”


Put another way: “The NCAA Clearinghouse (Eligibility Center) is the final arbiter of eligibility.”


Yet it took the Chicago IG to contact the U of M and notify administrators of an allegation of improper conduct; the NCAA retroactively ruled Rose ineligible only because the Educational Testing Service invalidated his SAT score due to the student-athlete’s unresponsiveness.


I have yet to see a solitary shred of evidence that the Clearinghouse truly investigated the allegations.


Derrick Rose himself, who did not respond to letters mailed to his home in Chicago, never seemed particularly eager to clear his name.


Some people argue that Rose might never have seen mail sent to Chicago when he resided in Memphis at the time; but this was going down in May, 2008.


It’s almost a year-and-a-half later, and we’ve nothing but spin control from the NBA’s newest sensation.


And the NCAA Infractions Committee was just as sloppy and culpable as everyone else, as there is no evidence that they truly investigated the entire morass, essentially basing their final decision on mounds of evidence which was largely collected by the University of Memphis.


I’ve never really been a fan of the NCAA. It’s just a sprawling, autocratic entity that profits from student-athletes without truly looking out for the kids’ best interests. Yes, the organization provides opportunities for millions of athletes around the country, but they profit handsomely from the enterprise, as well.


And anyone who thinks the U of M has a snowball’s chance on the bright side of Mercury of getting the punishment lessened is probably running an extremely high fever.


All of that I can accept.


What I cannot accept is the fact that the U of M had good reason to at least sit Derrick Rose down and get to the bottom of the situation regarding his SAT score.


Yes, I know that there is a better than decent chance that I would not have liked what was uncovered.


And yes, I understand that this would have changed the course of the magical 2007-’08 season the Memphis Tigers put together.


But I couldn’t miss what never happened in the first place; being told that 38-2 and a berth in the National Title game is no longer officially recognized sure hurts a lot more now than perhaps winning 27, 28 games and a Sweet Sixteen appearance would’ve stung then.


More than all else, though, the admins of the University of Memphis, instead of finding out the whole truth and dealing with the consequences, are whining about the severity of a half-baked set of penalties and spinning things to assign blame somewhere—anywhere—except where it belongs.


This is the second Final Four that the school has had wiped off the books; I lived through the pain of the first in 1985.


I have loved and defended this school through the embarrassment of firing a living legend behind a hot dog stand on game night.


I endured the atrocities of a head coach who was vacuous enough to not only have a sexual affair with a coed (despite being “happily married”), but also careless enough to get caught.


But through it all, I was able to retain the services of my blue-tinted shades.


As disappointed as I am now, I’m crushing them under foot, never to be replaced. I will always love and fervently support the University of Memphis, but never again will I take everything that they release for public consumption at face value.


I now know that we were a part of the problem. The fans clamoring for victories at all costs. The willingness to excuse the questionable decisions. The hurry to turn a blind eye.


Something amiss went on here, and no NCAA penalties in the world will assuage that.