INDIANAPOLIS — The NCAA Committee on Infractions conducted an unexpectedly short hearing Saturday on allegations of major rules violations by the University of Memphis men's basketball program when it was led by John Calipari.
The Memphis hearing before the NCAA's judicial body ended at 12:15 p.m. The committee had blocked off the entire day for the Memphis case.
That the hearing lasted three hours and 50 minutes, counting two breaks, fueled immediate speculation about the meaning of a relatively brief hearing.
As committee members and Memphis officials left the hearing room in a downtown hotel, Memphis legal counsel Sheri Lipman distributed a statement from school president Shirley Raines that struck an optimistic tone.
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" ... We believe we were able to fully answer the Committee's questions and present the actions that we have already taken based upon our internal investigation," Raines said. " ... We are hopeful that we will receive a favorable decision."
Memphis Athletic Director R.C. Johnson, normally a gregarious person, declined several interview requests as he left the hotel. When first approached for a comment, he said, "Can't. Sorry."
A moment later, as he stepped onto an escalator that would take him to the hotel lobby and out the front door, Johnson again turned down a request for comment. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't."
A few reporters followed him to the street outside the hotel, where he again declined to comment as he entered a black Ford Excursion presumably for a trip to the airport and a flight home.
NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn, who did not sit in the hearing room, noted that it is not unprecedented for a hearing to end much quicker than expected.
A judgment from the committee generally comes within six to eight weeks of a hearing. A decision sooner than that was a possibility, Osburn said.
Calipari, who became Kentucky coach this spring, participated in the hearing by phone. He is in China as part of a goodwill tour.
The NCAA wrote a letter to Calipari earlier this year telling him he was not personally at risk for a sanction.
The Committee on Infractions hearing began at 8:30 a.m. Memphis officials formally responded to allegations of rule violations in its men's basketball and women's golf programs.
The Committee on Infractions meets about six times a year. It can hear one or multiple cases in a day. Because there was only one case on its docket for Saturday, the presumption was a complex case requiring an extended period of time to explore.
The allegations involving the basketball program pertained to the 2007-08 season. The most explosive allegation charged that a player, presumably star freshman Derrick Rose, submitted a fraudulent college entrance exam in seeking to secure his initial eligibility.
In the closed hearing, Memphis officials were expected to say there was a lack of conclusive evidence about the authenticity of his test.
In its official response to the allegations released to the public last week, Memphis noted that the only evidence suggesting Rose did not take the entrance exam came from Lee Ann Harmless, a forensic document examiner hired by the NCAA. Because Harmless concluded that Rose "probably" did not do the writing on the exam form, Memphis said in its response that there was not sufficient evidence to conclude fraud.
Furthermore, Memphis said it took all reasonable steps to assure Rose's eligibility before he ever played a game for Memphis. Those steps included asking for the NCAA's approval for Rose's participation, which the NCAA provided.
Memphis was seeking to avoid such possible penalties as forfeiture of its 38 victories from the 2007-08 season and having its appearance in the 2008 Final Four vacated.
In its official response, Memphis acknowledged that more than $2,000 in travel expenses were improperly paid for an associate of Rose, reportedly older brother Reggie. But Memphis argued that the payments were an administrative error the school already has taken steps to correct.
Memphis noted that other travel expenses had been paid by the person in question.