According to the New York Times, the NCAA has launched an investigation into the eligibility of guard Eric Bledsoe, one of the four Kentucky freshmen who turned pro this spring and are in line for a lucrative NBA payday.
At issue with Bledsoe appears to be the legitimacy of the improbable academic transformation he made to meet the NCAA's minimum eligibility standards after transferring to A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham for his senior year. Interviews the Times conducted with those who close to Bledsoe in Birmingham also revealed potential extra benefits that would have put the guard's collegiate eligibility in doubt:
• Brenda Axle, the landlord for the house where Bledsoe and his mother moved for his senior year of high school, said that Bledsoe's high school coach paid her at least three months' rent, or $1,200. By moving there, Bledsoe was eligible to play for Parker, which he led to the Alabama Class 5A title game. Maurice Ford, the coach, denied paying the money.
• A copy of Bledsoe's high school transcript from his first three years reveals that it would have taken an improbable academic makeover — a jump from about a 1.9 grade-point average in core courses to just under a 2.5 during his senior year — for Bledsoe to achieve minimum N.C.A.A. standards to qualify for a scholarship.
• A college coach who recruited Bledsoe said that Ford explicitly told his coaching staff that he needed a specific amount of money to let Bledsoe sign with that university. The coach, who did not want to be named out of fear of repercussions when recruiting in Birmingham, said Ford told him and his staff that he was asking for money because he was helping pay rent for Bledsoe and his mother. Ford denied this, saying, "I don't prostitute my kids."
An NCAA investigation into Bledsoe's eligibility would represent another blow to Calipari, whose legacy as one of the most successful coaches of his era has been tarnished by violations that occurred under his watch. The teams at UMass and Memphis that Calipari led to the Final Four both had their records expunged by the NCAA, the former because Marcus Camby accepted thousands of dollars from a sports agent and the latter because Derrick Rose's SAT scores were ruled invalid.
You can certainly make the case that Kentucky shouldn't be penalized if Bledsoe is retroactively ruled ineligible because the NCAA cleared him, but as Memphis fans know from the Rose fiasco, that won't hold up. Memphis was never shown to have played any role in Rose's questionable SAT score, yet there's still an asterisk next to the Tigers' 38-2 season in 2008.
Will a similar fate befall Calipari's inaugural season at Kentucky that ended with a 35-3 record?
Well, if it does, here's a small silver lining for the Wildcats: At least they'd be vacating an Elite Eight run and not a Final Four.
- John Calipari