Recruiting red flags and Calipari

How many times can he say 'I didn't know'?

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 30, 2010 

On May 27, 2009, the Memphis Commercial Appeal broke the story that the NCAA alleged that an "unknown individual" completed the SAT for former Memphis guard Derrick Rose.

On May 29, 2010, the New York Times broke the story that the NCAA is investigating possible academic eligibility and extra benefit issues with regard to former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe.

There's one common denominator to both of those stories, and he's coaching Kentucky.

The upside to having John Calipari as your basketball coach came November through late March, when his Kentucky Wildcats won 35 games, captured the SEC regular season and tournament championships, and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The downside to having John Calipari as your basketball coach is you never know what's going to pop up next. Or maybe you do.

To be sure, there was nothing in the Times report Friday night implicating Kentucky or Calipari. It merely reported the NCAA has been to Alabama asking questions concerning the leap in Bledsoe's GPA from a 1.9 after his junior year in high school to a 2.5 at graduation, and whether Bledsoe's high school coach provided extra benefits to the blue-chip guard.

But there is more than enough information in the story to make you believe that alarms should have been going off somewhere over on the Avenue of Champions.

If you wanted to listen.

And as the Rose case proved, just because the NCAA Eligibility Center has certified a player doesn't mean a school is protected from punishment should the NCAA later rule the player ineligible.

Yes, we're talking the infamous vacate-ion.

Oh, the jokes have already started. One example: Kentucky had so much fun celebrating 2,000 wins, it'll get to do it again.

See, that's the thing. It doesn't matter that the NCAA has never implicated Calipari of any wrongdoing. There is an accumulating effect. What matters is that he is the only coach to have two Final Four trips from different schools "vacated" from the record books. Because of that, a sizable amount of the general public perceives the Kentucky coach to be operating on the dark side of the rules.

With perception comes scrutiny, something that was predicted when Calipari took the Kentucky job in the first place. In fact, many, myself included, argued the coach would know to mind his recruiting p's and q's given the program's fishbowl aspect.

But as one perceptive observer put it Friday night, Cal's problem is that he doesn't consider any kid off-limits.

The question now is should UK have considered Bledsoe off-limits?

After all, several schools besides Kentucky, including SEC members Florida and Alabama, offered Bledsoe a scholarship. (Duke recruited Bledsoe, but never offered.)

But as far as the issues are concerned, the Bledsoe case is not the Rose case. This isn't about one test score. This is about several scores, and grades, and what sort of academic and financial help a basketball player received from his high school and his coach, and anyone else, for that matter.

There wasn't one red flag. There were a collection of red flags.

And how many times can Calipari say, "I didn't know"?

Even if UK didn't know what was going on, you have the Rose case in which the NCAA used "strict liability" to rule that Memphis, with Calipari as coach, was responsible for playing an ineligible player, and thus forced to "vacate" its 2007-08 season and Final Four.

We're a long way from that at this point, but your head would have to be buried deeply in blue sand to deny at least the possibility of "strict liability" coming into play again.

Can you imagine the reaction if John Calipari had a third "vacate-ion" added to his record?

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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