MEMPHIS — The most successful season in University of Memphis history was smacked into the annals of college basketball ignominy Thursday when the school was stripped of its NCAA record 38 wins and forced to vacate its trip to the 2008 championship game for violations that occurred under former coach John Calipari.
The Memphis athletic department was also placed on a three-year probationary period applying to all sports, meaning the school must enhance its compliance program and provide an annual report to the NCAA. The Tigers’ basketball program was spared further sanctions, meaning that new coach Josh Pastner won’t be saddled with postseason bans or scholarship losses that could hinder the program moving forward.
The women’s golf program, which was also part of the inquiry, will lose two scholarships for providing extra benefits to players under former coach Jenny Bruun, who has subsequently been fired.
University president Shirley Raines said Memphis would appeal the basketball penalties.
“While we respect the NCAA process, we disagree with the decision to invalidate the ’07-08 men’s basketball season,” she said.
The violations, which were laid out in an NCAA notice of allegations that the school received in January, stemmed from former point guard Derrick Rose’s only season at Memphis. The NCAA alleged — and ultimately ruled — that Rose was retroactively ineligible to play for Memphis because of a fraudulent SAT that was invalidated by the Educational Testing Service in May 2008. Memphis also was charged with failing to monitor its charter airplane service when Rose’s brother, Reggie Rose, was not charged for more than $2,000 worth of travel expenses.
In the report released Thursday by the NCAA, it was revealed that the SAT in question was taken on May 5, 2007 — just more than a month before Rose enrolled in classes at Memphis. Additionally, the test was taken in Detroit, not in Rose’s hometown of Chicago, where he previously did not attain a qualifying score on the ACT three times. The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, however, did not ultimately consider the circumstances surrounding Rose’s SAT. Rather, the NCAA simply said that because the ETS invalidated Rose’s test score, it was a “strict liability” situation that required forfeiture of the 2007-08 season.
“As the committee looked into the matter, it was clear that from the time that the testing service canceled the test score that that meant the student-athlete had been ineligible from the very beginning and didn’t require further inquiry or finding as to whether or not there were improprieties in the administration of the exam,” Paul Dee, the former athletic director at the University of Miami who chaired the Committee on Infractions, said on a teleconference.
Memphis’ case, both when it appeared in front of the committee on June 6 and presumably in its appeal, will center on the fact that Rose’s academic transcript was certified by the NCAA clearinghouse and only came into question after the 2007-08 season had been completed.
“I am not familiar with the term ‘strict liability’ ever used in another NCAA opinion,” university legal counsel Sheri Lipman said. “That’s a new standard to use in this situation, and we believe it should not be used in this situation.”
Memphis also claims it took all reasonable steps to ensure Rose’s eligibility after questions about his high school transcript arose in October 2007. Athletic director R.C. Johnson said Rose was questioned by four school officials about the SAT and that the school was comfortable with its investigation, which found no evidence that he cheated.
“We have 400 student-athletes, and they’re not all as high-profile as others,” Johnson said. “But those that are really high-profile, we watch it closely and if we find anything at all, we’ll follow up on it.”
Should Memphis’ appeal fail, the school will be forced to forfeit $615,000 in revenue associated with the 2008 NCAA Tournament run plus return its Final Four trophy and take down the banners from that season. Also at stake is Calipari’s status as Memphis’ winningest all-time coach, just 32 ahead of Larry Finch’s previous school record of 220 victories.
Calipari, who left for Kentucky on March 31, would become the only coach in NCAA history to have Final Four appearances vacated at two different schools. Marcus Camby, a star player on his 1996 UMass team, was ruled ineligible after revelations that he had accepted money from an agent.
Johnson said that Memphis, if it’s forced to vacate the season, would have recourse to recoup the victory-related bonuses Calipari earned. Calipari’s contract at that time called for a $160,000 bonus for winning 81 percent of his games and achieving certain academic benchmarks. He also received a $200,000 bonus for leading Memphis to the Final Four.
“I’m very disappointed and disheartened by the NCAA’s findings,” Calipari said in a statement on his Web site. “I fully support the University of Memphis’ appeal, and until that process is carried through to its completion, I will have no further comments on the matter.”
Rose, in a statement released by his attorney Thursday, said “it is satisfying to see that the NCAA could find no wrongdoing on my part in their ruling.
“I think it is important for people to understand that I complied with everything that was asked of me while at the university, including my full participation in the university’s investigation of this issue, and was ultimately cleared to play in the entire 2007-08 season by the NCAA clearinghouse and the university.”
Pastner spent much of the day Thursday relaying to recruits that Memphis’ program under the new regime would not suffer penalties.
“Conversations with players, recruits everything was very positive because nothing has affected our chance to compete at the very highest elite level, which is what we want,” Pastner said. “We know we’re one of the elite programs in America and nothing has changed on that.
Contact Dan Wolken at 901-529-2365 or email@example.com