College coach invests time, brainpower and a sizable portion of the recruiting budget on the pursuit of a high-profile prospect. After prospect enters college, whispers grow about prospect cheating on an entrance exam. No direct evidence links college coach to the testing. If cheating occurred, the college coach has what politicians call plausible deniability
Len Elmore wonders just how plausible that deniability is.
As a former All-America player for Maryland and then a longtime college basketball commentator, Elmore knows the ways of big-time athletics.
"You can't tell me that coaches don't have control over situations that have a direct impact" on an incoming player and the program, he said. " ... I'd really be surprised if there wasn't at least some inkling. Coaches have intuition. They've been around. Many of them have been around a long, long time. They know what the proper path to recruiting and admission of a student-athlete would be all about. And they also probably would be able to smell something that wasn't right."
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Elmore was speaking in general terms. He made sure to note that he had no knowledge of the current case involving Memphis, star recruit Derrick Rose and then-coach John Calipari, who came to Kentucky this spring. The NCAA charged Memphis with a major violation of academic fraud in connection to Rose's college entrance exam.
Memphis conducted an investigation. In its official response (what amounts to a not-guilty plea), the school said that its basketball staff was not involved and had no knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Rose's entrance exam.
The NCAA's judicial body, its Committee on Infractions, heard the case on Saturday and is expected to render a decision by the end of July.
Then ESPN.com reported later in the week that another Memphis player, Robert Dozier, had had his SAT score invalidated. An anonymous letter to the NCAA Clearinghouse questioned the score, ESPN.com reported. That led Georgia to deny Dozier admission.
After attending Laurinburg Institute, a prep school in Laurinburg, N.C., Dozier played for Memphis. In May, the NCAA announced that it would no longer accept academic records from Laurinburg Institute. Dozier was one of three starters on the Memphis 2008 Final Four team who previously attended Laurinburg. The other two were Joey Dorsey and Antonio Anderson.
In offering an opinion about coaches' attention to academic eligibility, Elmore was not speaking for the Knight Commission, which aims to help bring reforms to college athletics.
Elmore, who is a member of the Knight Commission, simply shared his opinion about how closely he believed college coaches monitor a prospect's efforts to meet academic eligibility standards.
"If they don't, I'd say that coach is negligent," Elmore said. "But in the end, it comes down to you-can-tell. I don't care who you are, you can tell. You can tell a lot. You can tell by speaking to a young man. You can tell by the school the young man goes to.
"Sometimes you can be wrong. But all too often, you can tell who is going to have a problem and who's not."
If the coach senses a problem or knows of a problem with a college entrance exam, he's obligated to investigate, Elmore said. "To me, that's your responsibility."
It would take a courageous coach to voluntarily turn down the chance to add a star player because of a questionable college entrance exam. That's where Elmore saw the plausible deniability enabling the coach to look the other way and take the player.
"That, to me, is a protecting wall that allows the coach to avoid having to face the decision to act courageously," he said.
The Memphis-John Calipari case might bring back unhappy memories for UK President Lee Todd.
When the NCAA found that the Kentucky football program broke rules earlier this decade, Todd decried how Coach Hal Mumme could move on to another program while the leftover UK players had to deal with the penalty of a one-year bowl ban.
Todd unsuccessfully appealed that sanction and said he would recommend that the Southeastern Conference hold its head coaches more accountable for rules violations.
"I have a real problem when a program gets a sanction of lack of institutional control and the head coach of that program walks away free and clear and moves on to another coaching position," Todd said in 2002, "while the students are left to pay the price."
Of course, there's no allegation involving institutional control with the Memphis case. Calipari received notice that he is not "at-risk" in the NCAA investigation. He's moved on to UK, which could be a national championship contender next season. Meanwhile, if the NCAA finds major violations occurred in the 2007-08 season, Memphis faces sanctions.
Through a spokesman, Todd declined to discuss this shoe-on-the-other-foot circumstance.
Todd's 2002 call for more accountability gained traction. Jim Haney, executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said his organization supports the concept of accountability. He noted how the NCAA Committee on Infractions required Indiana to adopt the self-imposed sanctions put in place by Oklahoma as a condition for hiring Kelvin Sampson as coach in 2006.
"There is no safe haven," Haney said.
It should be noted that there is no talk of a sanction following Calipari to Kentucky.
Mumme received a letter absolving him of accountability in the UK football case. So did Eddie Sutton in the 1989 UK basketball case. Each resumed his coaching career at another school.
Len Elmore, a member of the Knight Commission, noted how the threat of a lawsuit can lead the NCAA to "apply absolution, sometimes when it might be premature."
Elmore suggested that not only should head coaches be held accountable for what happens in a program, but so, too, should athletic directors, compliance officers and athletic departments.
"The department of athletics has to be as equally culpable, responsible and accountable ... (for) providing the type of petri dish where this stuff can grow and oftentimes multiply," he said.
For Elmore, such accountability cuts to the core of the college experience.
"This is what the mission of education is all about," he said. "Not only is it about developing leaders. You're teaching accountability and teaching ethics."
Robby Speer returned last week from an around-the-world trip that included basketball tours of Turkey and China. His itinerary began on May 10 when he drove from his Campbellsville home to Louisville, where he caught a flight to Memphis. Then he flew to Amsterdam, Istanbul and Beijing.
As executive director of Sports Reach, Speer organizes basketball tours in foreign countries. In May, he led a women's team in Turkey and then a men's team in China.
Sports Reach uses basketball to share its belief in spiritual values.
"We can make a big impact in people when they see how we react to situations," Speer said. "It allows us to share things that are important to us."
Speer and former UK player Larry Pursiful began the program 25 years ago. The trip to China was Speer's 35th. By the way, he failed to cross paths with UK Coach John Calipari. Calipari arrived in China last Sunday. Speer's team departed on Monday. It's a big country.
Former Cat Alex Legion was among the players on the trip to China. He averaged 15.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. Legion also demonstrated a much-improved jump shot (39.1-percent from three-point range), Speer said.
Another player on the team was A.J. Slaughter of Western Kentucky. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.9 assists.
Minnesota's Paul Carter led the team in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (11.0 rpg).
The Sports Reach team finished the tour with a record of 4-3-1.
On the return, Speer flew over the Arctic Circle from Beijing to Newark, N.J. The final leg of the trip took him from Newark to Louisville. He arrived home after midnight Thursday night.
Wildcat Lodge probably won't be the only UK basketball fixture to get a makeover. New coach John Calipari wants some cosmetic changes in the UK locker room in Rupp Arena.
Calipari wants a darker wood used for trim in at least the coaches' dressing area. Plus, UK plans to install a flat-screen TV in the locker room.
UK is also considering a wide range of changes to the Lodge, including a complete rebuilding of the upscale basketball dormitory. UK would want a new Lodge to be close to the Craft Center.
Anyone concerned about taxpayer money being used for changes in the Rupp Arena locker room need not worry. UK's athletic department would pay the expense.
The revelation that the NCAA alleged major rules violations by John Calipari's Memphis program serves as a clear demarcation. Perceptions changed from a simple basketball perspective to a more complex view.
When asked during the pre-revelation period to assess John Calipari's immediate impact on the SEC, columnist Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News sent this e-mail:
"John Calipari's impact on the SEC?
"What's a tornado's impact on a trailer park?
"When's the last time an SEC basketball program made national headlines like this in May?
"When's the last time an SEC basketball program made national headlines like this in March?
"All Calipari has done is make the best program in the conference start acting like the best program in the country. Like it hasn't done in years. Which should make the rest of the SEC realize, if they don't step it up, this league will be UK and the 11 dwarfs again."
Hood on track
After winning the high jump (clearing 6 feet, 6 inches) in the state 3A track meet, UK recruit Jon Hood spoke to Herald-Leader sportswriter Mark Maloney.
Here's an excerpt of the conversation:
MM: Are you sad about the end of your track and field career?
Hood: "I am. Track and field is how I've met a lot people. Met a lot of good people. It's a lot of fun, just all-around fun. I am (sad). I can't wait to get to UK, though."
MM: Is it nice for you to talk about something other than basketball for a moment?
Hood: "It is. It is. You're exactly right. It is very good to talk about something other than basketball."
MM: What do you think about UK basketball's prospects next season?
Hood: "We've got a really good team coming in, a really good recruiting class. One of the best ever assembled. So I'm looking forward to doing big things."
MM: Have you talked to Coach Cal about possibly letting you high jump for UK?
Hood: "No, I haven't. I met the UK track coach today and he was kind of joking about it. But I don't know."
To Dick Vitale. The ebullient one turns 70 on Tuesday.