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NCAA Tames Tigers

August 21, 2009

The University of Memphis men’s basketball team will have to forget what athletic officials there had deemed the “Dream Team Season,” the 2007-8 campaign in which it won a record 38 games and nearly won the national title game.

Thursday, in one of the highest-profile infractions cases in recent memory, the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Committee on Infractions announced that it is requiring Memphis to vacate all of its wins during this record-breaking season, because one of the team’s star players was found, after the fact, to be ineligible to compete.

Though the player in question was not identified by the NCAA or Memphis, news outlets reported with near certainty that it is Derek Rose, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 National Basketball Association draft. Rose now plays for the Chicago Bulls.

A month after Memphis lost the 2008 national title game to the University of Kansas, the Educational Testing Services informed both the NCAA and Memphis that Rose’s SAT score had been invalidated due to “irregularities” in the test he took in May 2007 in Detroit. The NCAA report notes that Rose had taken the test three previous times in his hometown of Chicago and had received unsatisfactory scores. It was suspected that someone stood in and took the SAT for Rose during this fourth administration of the test in Detroit.

The announcement of the invalidation, however, did not catch Memphis officials by surprise. Memphis had been approached in October 2007, after the administration of the invalid test in question, by the Chicago Public Schools Internal Audit division, which noted that the State of Illinois's Office of the Inspector General had received an allegation of "irregularities” with Rose’s SAT scores. Memphis officials said they were unable to substantiate this claim, however, and Rose was cleared to play during the 2007-8 season.

In a firm rebuttal to the NCAA penalties, Shirley Raines, Memphis's president, said at a news conference that the institution and its athletics staff had done its “due diligence” and that the university would appeal the decision.

Raines explained that the university had “followed all the rules regarding player eligibility” and noted that the NCAA Eligibility Center had independently cleared Rose to play two separate times before he took the court that season. Given this, she added, the “penalty is unfair.”

Paul Dee, chair of the Committee on Infractions and lecturer of law and education at the University of Miami, told reporters during a conference call that this matter of timing is made irrelevant by the fact that Rose’s SAT score had been invalidated, something which in and of itself makes a player automatically ineligible to play.

This is the second squad coached by John Calipari -- Memphis's coach at the time -- that has had to vacate its Final Four appearances following his departure. After the 1995-96 season, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst had to vacate its Final Four trip after it was discovered that Marcus Camby, the team’s star center, received a large sum of money from a sports agent.

As with that case, Calipari is not subject to any personal penalties for the infraction. Clarifying this lack of personal penalty, Dee only said the NCAA did not find Calipari to have violated any rules in this case.

In April, Calipari left Memphis and struck a $31.65 million deal to coach at the University of Kentucky for the next eight years. As of press time, Calipari had not formally responded to the Memphis infractions. He did, however, tell the Associated Press at an appearance at the Kentucky State Fair Thursday that he would be “disappointed” if his former team’s records were vacated by the NCAA.

Kentucky officials offered no comment regarding the Memphis infractions under the watch of Calipari, their new coach. Last week, however, Mitch Banhart, Kentucky's athletics director, told the Associated Press last week that he was not worried about Calipari’s leadership or any potential penalties.

"There's one thing John says: 'I want my banners to count for something and I want to put the rings on the fingers and let them stay there,' " Barnhart said to the Associated Press. "That's important to him, and so he is embracing any help that we give him to make sure we're able to, at the end of the day, not have to look over our shoulders and worry."

Ray Nicosia, executive director of the office of testing integrity at ETS, said the company would not offer any comment about Rose’s case in particular or its impact on perceptions of the test. He did, however, note that only one-tenth of one percent of all SATs taken every year are invalidated because of the suspicion of wrongdoing. Most often in those cases, he said, students are caught looking at another test taker’s exam or covertly sharing answers with a friend. One of the least common forms of SAT cheating, he added, is that in which a student takes the test for someone else.

“We do have students who are successful in getting an unfair advantage, but we wind up catching a lot of those kids at some point down the road,” Nicosia said. “Some get away with it, but it doesn’t happen a lot. We feel we have a very good security policy here at ETS and at the College Board [which produces the SAT].”

In addition to the incident with Rose, Memphis was found guilty of having provided “improper benefits” to a men’s basketball player’s brother. Though this individual also went unidentified, the same media outlets that identified Rose in the SAT breach are reporting with certainty that the individual in this second infraction is Rose’s brother, Reggie, then a student at Memphis but not on the basketball team. The NCAA report notes that Rose’s brother was given free transportation on the team’s charter plane and lodging at the team hotel by Memphis for its out-of-town games, benefits that amount to more than $1,700.

To this second infraction, Memphis officials were a bit more understanding but still criticized their punishment.

“We agree with the facts, but not the penalty,” Raines said. “We made an honest mistake. We carefully reviewed our travel processes, and have made changes in our policy and procedures including an internal audit review.”

Other than vacation all of its wins during the 2007-08 men’s basketball season, Memphis must also "return all the money it received through Conference USA revenue sharing for its appearance in the 2008 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament.” There are no estimates of how much money that might be.

 

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