NCAA teaches Memphis an illogical lesson

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 23, 2009 

John Clay

So why even have an NCAA Clearing House?

I mean, come on, what's the point?

That was the question that came out of Thursday's announcement that the NCAA was forcing Memphis to vacate its 2007-08 college basketball season because a player, i.e. Derrick Rose, had his standardized test score invalidated.

Outside of the geographical fact that Derrick Rose took his final SAT in Detroit — I know, I know, the infamous Worldwide Wes lives in Detroit and, oh yeah, he lives in Cleveland and Chicago, too — there was nothing terribly new Thursday.

You knew when the story first broke that the NCAA would vacate Memphis' 2007-08 basketball season. That's how it operates. If an independent agency ruled Derrick Rose's test score invalid, then the NCAA ruled it invalid. Didn't matter what Memphis knew or did not know. It only matters what the NCAA believes.

That didn't keep the national press from playing pile-on, of course. The past three days, new UK basketball coach John Calipari has been hammered the way Big Blue Nation hopes his team hammers opponents.

And yet, something doesn't seem quite fair here. I've never been one of those railing that the NCAA unfairly issues arbitrary, nonsensical justice. But given the double standard applied here, I have to wonder.

After all, the NCAA has its Clearing House, the functional arm that decides whether a student-athlete is eligible or ineligible, right?

A school must provide the Clearing House information regarding a student-athlete's academic record, including standardized test scores. It's the Clearing House that then rules whether the student-athlete is eligible, not the school. And a school had better not play the student-athlete before the Clearing House makes its ruling.

Fact: The NCAA Clearing House ruled Derrick Rose was eligible to play at Memphis.

Now, two years later, the NCAA says, never mind, Rose wasn't eligible after all because his test score was invalidated by the Education Testing Service, after the fact.

The NCAA didn't blame Memphis. It didn't say Memphis knew about Rose's test. It didn't say Memphis cheated. It did say that under the "strict liability" definition, Memphis must return its NCAA Tournament money and wipe away the wins.

As for the Clearing House? There, strict liability doesn't apply, because the NCAA is never liable.

"When you have a situation where information is not known at the time, and information appears to be valid on its face, then I assess no blame," infractions committee chairman Paul Dee said Thursday. "Because the score was canceled after the fact, it's hard to say that anyone could have foreseen that would happen."

But the NCAA didn't say Memphis should have seen it coming, either. Instead, it said that because the Education Testing Service disqualified Rose's score, Memphis must pay.

Never mind the NCAA itself told Memphis it could play Rose in the first place. Never mind the NCAA did not inform Memphis until May 2008, one month after it lost to Kansas in the NCAA title game, there might be a problem.

Got it?

No wonder the NCAA needs a rule book taller than the bank building where the NCAA keeps all its tax-free money.

Moral of the story: Just because the NCAA Clearing House says a student-athlete is eligible to play doesn't mean the student-athlete is really eligible to play.

At any date or time, we the NCAA can come back and say the student-athlete was not eligible, and if you as participating member made the mistake of taking our word the first time around and using that student-athlete, well then, sorry for your luck.

And heaven help you against the national press.

That's fair, right?

So tell me again, why is there an NCAA Clearing House?

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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