I am coming to you from Treviso Italy, where I came hoping to get away from the morass of college basketball. I am here for the Reebok Eurocamp and looking forward to seeing some great basketball -- and learning more about a developmental system that does not include the sometimes crazy notion that sports and academics can sanely coexist.
I have defended athletes in all kinds of situations, not because I reflexively defend them, but because too often the process is rigged against them as they try to seek justice. That doesn't mean athletes shouldn't be held to the same academic and legal standards as others. But there is a flipside: situations where young athletes are unfairly and unjustly accused by the media and people in college athletics. I have certainly seen this first hand and I always caution not to jump to conclusions until justice runs its course. Money Players previously defended Memphis, Calipari and Derrick Rose, who now stands accused of having a stand-in take his SATs. ESPN and others are now reporting a similar situation with 4-year Memphis player Robert Dozier.
Yes, I am big on privacy rights, especially when high profile athletes are singled out for no other reason than because they are famous. I also think it is important to allow investigations to be carried out methodically and fully before reaching conclusions. As my friend Shane Battier, who co-founded the unfortunately now-defunct Student Basketball Committee, wrote in 2000, when he was at Duke:
"We are immediately concerned and highly disappointed about the image that a lot of players are getting due to perceived violations of NCAA rules," Battier said in a statement issued following the teleconference. "We feel that a lot of these players are getting a bad reputation and are being vilified in the eyes of the public when, in fact, nothing morally wrong has occurred. So, as a group, we are trying to come together and support our brothers who have been ostracized."
While I hope there is some reasonable explanation as to why two high-profile Memphis players have been accused of SAT impropriety, my active imagination fails me here. Even if the Rose allegations turn out to be true, there are potential mitigating circumstances that would bolster Memphis's case, including privacy laws (e.g. Calipari may never have been made aware of the allegations, especially if the matter was resolved), the fact that the NCAA Eligibility Center cleared Rose to play, and the fact that up until ESPN reported what took place with Robert Dozier, this was a one-time occurrence.
As far as Dozier is concerned, cheating on an SAT test is a very serious matter. But, it should not come with a form of a college sports death sentence. Yes, penalize him, but I think it would have been wrong to ruin the kid's life based on one serious mistake. Some school was going to take a chance on him, of course. And, assuming he worked to redeem himself academically, he deserved the opportunity to go to college and also play basketball.
With allegations of almost-identical nature, the "I didn't know" defense is weakened. Fool me once, as the saying goes. Note: The Dozier allegations will not be brought up in the current NCAA investigation, per NCAA rules (applause for this relatively recent bylaw).
My only defense of Memphis and Calipari -- and I am not sure this is a defense -- is college basketball might just be rotten to the core, even if the apple appears to have a nice, healthy skin.
Calipari may bring in multiple players with questionable backgrounds -- and he may take in more than other programs -- but there are plenty of other schools that take in these academically at risk athletes. As my father in law Art Spander wrote in this previously-linked article:
And as the sports sociologist Harry Edwards points out, “If you don’t get him, they’ll get him and use him against you.”