The University of Kentucky should have known about serious questions that could have affected the eligibility of basketball player Eric Bledsoe, a private investigator who checks the background of athletes said Tuesday.
Michael L. Buckner, an investigator and attorney based in Pompano Beach, Fla., said recent media reports made him believe questions about Bledsoe's eligibility were known during the recruiting process.
"Coaches at other schools know there is," he said. "Then I would assume Kentucky knew or should have known."
Coach John Calipari's experience at Memphis, specifically the NCAA ruling he played an ineligible player, Derrick Rose, in the 2007-08 season, should have put UK on heightened alert, Buckner said. The NCAA ordered Memphis to vacate a record 38 victories and a 2008 Final Four appearance.
"That just raises the stakes," Buckner said. "'We need to do everything right. We need to dot i's, cross t's because we know people are going to look at the recruiting class in Calipari's first year, and subsequent years.'"
Sandy Bell, UK's chief compliance officer, was not available for comment, spokesman DeWayne Peevy said.
The process that leads the NCAA to decide the eligibility of athletes made news last weekend when The New York Times reported the NCAA was investigating Bledsoe's background. The NCAA has asked questions about dramatic improvement on Bledsoe's academic transcript after he changed high schools in Birmingham, Ala., and whether his high school coach, Maurice Ford, asked recruiters for money to pay Bledsoe's rent, the Times reported.
Ford has vehemently denied asking for money or paying the rent. His attorney, Reginald McDaniel, said Tuesday that Ford was "torn apart" by the accusations.
Neither the NCAA nor many individual schools do a thorough job of checking the background of prospective athletes, Buckner said. Plus, schools that make winning a top priority have a vested interest not to look too closely into a player's background, he acknowledged.
"Sometimes, I think, some schools may take the stance, 'We're just going to follow the rules as they dictate and only do what we're required to do,' which is to submit information to the Eligibility Center," said Buckner, who suggested that as many as 60 percent of schools do bare-minimum background checks.
Since the NCAA estimates its Eligibility Center judges the eligibility of about 90,000 athletes each year, it is "virtually impossible" for it to thoroughly check each case, Buckner said. "The NCAA gives schools a false sense of security when they clear a player to play. Then issues come up afterward."
Bledsoe's transcript would prompt obvious questions, the private investigator said. "Just a cursory review ... should reveal some red flags."
In a statement Saturday, UK noted the Eligibility Center had declared Bledsoe eligible. Left unsaid was that the NCAA originally judged Rose eligible before new information about his college entrance exam led to a reversal.
Bledsoe's first high school coach in Birmingham, Steve Ward, said Tuesday that UK had not asked him about the player's transcript. McDaniel said he did not believe UK officials asked Ford about Bledsoe's transcript.
NCAA investigators asked Ward and George Moore, the athletics director for Birmingham city schools, about Bledsoe's transcript. Ward and Moore said they did not reveal any details about the transcript.
"The bottom line is I knew if he applied himself, he could do it," Ward said of Bledsoe's dramatic improvement in the classroom. "I wasn't surprised."