Major violations alleged under Calipari at Memphis

jtipton@herald-leader.comMay 28, 2009 

Allegations of major rules violations while John Calipari coached at the University of Memphis became public Wednesday night, casting an ominous shadow on what had been his celebrated start as University of Kentucky basketball coach.

Calipari was not named in the allegations, which the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported in a story posted on its Web site at 8:14 p.m. EDT.

The allegations, which the newspaper discovered in a Freedom of Information request, involve major violations concerning academic fraud and the improper spending of more than $2,000 in travel expenses for an associate of a student-athlete.

The allegations also include a secondary violation involving an improper phone call to the mother of a prospective student-athlete.

In its "notice of allegations," the NCAA asked that Calipari be present when its judicial body, the Committee on Infractions, considers the Memphis response at its June 5-7 meeting in Indianapolis.

Calipari, who had been in Destin, Fla., for the Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings, could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

But UK basketball spokesman DeWayne Peevy released a statement late Wednesday night that said Calipari had "received a letter from the NCAA stating that he is not at risk of being charged with any NCAA violations in this case."

"First and foremost, there are no NCAA allegations against UK head men's basketball coach John Calipari," the statement said. "Coach Calipari was forthcoming with the University of Kentucky during the hiring process about any issues under investigation at the University of Memphis at that time.

"It is normal procedure for the NCAA to ask a former coach to participate in a hearing. Therefore, Coach Calipari will participate as requested."

The statement said the University of Kentucky would not comment further on the situation, nor would Calipari.

"Even though I'm not at risk, I will fully cooperate with the NCAA hearing," Calipari said in the statement. "Beyond that, I concur with the statement from the University of Kentucky and will have no further comment."

Memphis Athletics Director R.C. Johnson declined to address details in the NCAA allegations, which also included the Memphis women's golf team.

"We take it very seriously. We don't condone it," Johnson told the Commercial Appeal. "We're doing a thorough investigation."

Johnson said the university was "still working" on its response to the NCAA notice of allegations.

UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart could not be reached for comment. Both were in Destin.

Sandy Bell, a senior associate athletics director and UK's chief compliance officer, was contacted. "I don't have any comment on that at all," she said.

Mira Ball, the chairwoman of the UK Board of Trustees who enthusiastically endorsed Calipari's hiring, said she wasn't aware of the NCAA investigation and wants "to know all the facts" before commenting.

"But I sure hope there's nothing to it," she said.

Memphis received notice of allegations from the NCAA on Jan. 16.

When UK introduced Calipari as coach on April 1, Barnhart spoke of how well the school vetted Calipari. After identifying Calipari as the coach to replace Billy Gillispie, Barnhart told the news conference audience, "We then started our due diligence, more calls and background checks. Sandy Bell and the compliance folks talked with the NCAA and checked records and facts. David Price (the NCAA vice president of enforcement services), other people at the high level with the NCAA, assured us how much they enjoyed working with John in that process."

The Memphis investigation is not the first time the NCAA has alleged a major violation in a Calipari program. The NCAA ordered his 1996 University of Massachusetts team to "vacate" its tournament results, including a trip to the Final Four, because star center Marcus Camby was found to be receiving money from an agent.

Calipari was not found personally culpable in the UMass case.

If the allegations against Memphis are proved to be true, the Tigers could be forced to forfeit their NCAA-record 38 victories and Final Four appearance in 2008.

The NCAA notice of allegations involved major violations in the Memphis program during the 2007-08 season.

The allegations include "knowing fraudulence or misconduct" on an SAT exam by a player on the team.

The Commercial Appeal story said that the wording of the report seemed to indicate the player in question competed only during the 2007-08 season and specifically the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The player's name was redacted in the report.

The player has subsequently denied the charge, according to university personnel.

The only player on the roster who competed only during that season was Derrick Rose, who subsequently was the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft last June.

The report does not include allegations of a lack of institutional control, meaning Memphis would probably avoid serious penalties that would have an impact on the program going forward. The report includes no allegations that would have occurred during the tenure of Josh Pastner, either as an assistant or head coach.

Memphis is scheduled to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions on June 6.

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