Does the NCAA play favorites?

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – It's an old argument: The NCAA selectively enforces its rules. When it comes to violations, the critics contend, it goes easy on favored programs while actively investigating and hammering others.

By laying down the law on some, the NCAA looks serious about cracking down on cheats. By ignoring the transgressions of others, it sets up a profitable business model.

College athletics is popular, in part, because it has clean programs and dirty ones, black hats and white, heels and heroes. In reality the division isn't so clear, but who cares about reality? This works in wrestling, doesn't it?

The NCAA has denied it for decades. It says it treats all institutions equally.

Which brings us to the curious case of Corey Maggette, Myron Piggie and Duke, most certainly one of the NCAA's golden programs.

And for good reason.

Under the impressive command of Mike Krzyzewski, Duke has fielded not only a team with a winning record in 21 of the past 24 seasons but also a team comprised of likable, high-quality student-athletes. When people cite programs that "do it the right way," Duke usually is the first example. These are the good guys.

But what happens when a bad thing happens to a good program? What if Duke fielded a team with an ineligible player? What if the precedent for such an offense called for the embarrassing forfeiture of games and the stripping of a Final Four appearance?

Would the NCAA ever risk tarnishing the image of a public relations cornerstone? Would the association ever treat Duke and its Hall of Fame coach like everyone else?

We are waiting (and waiting and waiting) to find out. Each passing day answers the question more definitively.

Here is a timeline of the case in question:

April 1997 to August 1997: Kansas City summer basketball coach Myron Piggie makes cash payments to high school player Corey Maggette totaling $2,000. The money comes from a revenue pool that includes donations to Piggie from professional sports agents Kevin Poston and Jerome Stanley.

Nov. 12, 1997: Maggette signs a national letter of intent with Duke.

October 1998 to March 1999: Maggette averages 10.6 points per game to help Duke (37-2) reach the national championship game, which Duke loses to Connecticut.

June 30, 1999: Maggette is selected 13th in the NBA draft.

April 13, 2000: A federal grand jury in Missouri hands down an 11-count indictment of Piggie, which details the payments to Maggette (along with players at three other schools). By NCAA statutes the payments compromise Maggette's amateur status. Maggette initially denies receiving any money.

April 18, 2000: The NCAA's Jane Jankowski says: "We will have to determine if Duke, in fact, had an ineligible player in the NCAA tournament. And, if so, what monies would have to be returned for use of an ineligible player."

May 23, 2000: Piggie works a plea bargain and admits making the payments.

July 12, 2000: Maggette comes clean and admits he received the cash from Piggie.

Spring 2001: Duke hands over all its information to the NCAA, according to John Burness, Duke's senior vice president for public affairs.

May 30, 2001: Piggie is sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for fraud.

January 2003: Piggie is paroled from federal prison in Arkansas.

As for the NCAA ruling, it's been nearly four years since all pertinent information was admitted under oath, four years after the NCAA vowed to "determine" if Duke violated eligibility standards and three years after the school presented its defense.

"We don't have any information on that," NCAA spokesperson Monica Lunderman said Tuesday. The NCAA does not provide comment concerning "ongoing investigations."

But what they could still be investigating is unclear. There appears to be nothing else to find. Everyone long ago admitted everything. If there is any movement on the case, Duke administrators are unaware.

"We have not heard anything official for the past year," Burness said Tuesday.

So the case is what, fully investigated but never to be ruled on? The NCAA hoping it just fades away, forgotten?

These things take time though, right? Not really.

While 20 teams were forced to vacate NCAA appearances during the 1990s for use of ineligible players, the two most pertinent cases involve Missouri and Jevon Crudup in 1994 and Massachusetts and Marcus Camby in 1996.

Like Maggette, both players received payments from either agents or people affiliated with agents. Both rightfully were deemed to have violated the NCAA's standards of amateurism and thus made their teams ineligible for competition.

When Missouri turned in its case in the spring of 1996, it took the NCAA less than four months to find the Tigers guilty, strip them of their 1994 NCAA Elite Eight appearance and demand the repayment of $97,000 in revenue.

In March of 1997 UMass turned over its case, and just seven weeks later the NCAA vacated the school's 1996 Final Four appearance, took away 35 victories and asked for restitution of $160,000 in revenue.

In both cases, the schools and its coaches were exonerated of any wrongdoing.

And that is probably the case with Krzyzewski and Duke. It is unlikely anyone in Durham knew, or should have known, about Maggette's dealings with Piggie. But that has nothing to do with the rules. If you play one ineligible player, even unintentionally, by definition your team is ineligible.

Duke has a wrinkle in its defense. Maggette took his money before he was enrolled at the school. Crudup and Camby took theirs while in college.

"At no time when he was associated with Duke did [Maggette] take the payments," Burness said. "It is very different when someone is enrolled."

It is a compelling argument and maybe it spares the Blue Devils from punishment. But amateur status seems like a clearly defined standard you can't cross back and forth from. It is sort of like saying someone is a little bit pregnant.

This would be an interesting decision for the NCAA to make. Maybe Duke should be cleared. Maybe not. But the normally vigilant NCAA has made no effort to judge this seemingly fully investigated case. No ruling. No phone calls to Duke for a year. No word.

When it was Missouri and Massachusetts, justice was swift, complete and appropriately in line with NCAA statutes.

So why not with Duke?

Saturday the Blue Devils play in their 14th Final Four, white hats firmly secured, no tarnish, forfeits or embarrassing scandals on Krzyzewski's legacy. The NCAA business model rolls on.

Meanwhile the "investigation" soon enters its fourth year.

"You would think it would be completed by now," the NCAA's Lunderman said.

Sometimes silence can say a lot.

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