The Vault: The Marvin Stone-NCAA saga

Not that this is immediately pertinent to any current NCAA stories, but I bring it up from time to time because it is one of only two times I have covered an athlete dispute with the NCAA in which the athlete got his own lawyer and didn’t just allow the school and NCAA to sort it out.

When that happens and you get the courts involved, the closed book that is the NCAA eligibility process gets opened. And when you get to see inside, it’s pretty interesting. Keep in mind that these stories are now seven years old, and many of the policies have changed. Yet you do get a feel for how things proceeded in this case, and a look at how the NCAA has done business and its relationship to its member schools.

This is a whole lot of stuff. If you’re only going to read one, the March 8, 2003, story, in which the NCAA targets the wrong Marvin Stone for accusations, is one of the better cases of mistaken identity I’ve ever covered.

Feb. 22, 2003

Stone attracts NCAA’s interest;
Investigators to visit, but Pitino not worried


University of Louisville basketball player Marvin Stone has been asked to meet with NCAA investigators tomorrow regarding his amateur status, his attorney said yesterday. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, however, said he has “no concern at all” about the senior’s eligibility.

“I feel very comfortable that it is nothing that has to do with the University of Louisville,” Pitino said, adding that he wasn’t sure about the subject of the NCAA’s visit. “It’s like the IRS. Everybody gets nervous, but if you do the right things and pay your taxes on time and be a good boy, you may not get any penalties.”

Stone’s attorney, Don Jackson of Montgomery, Ala., said yesterday that he expects the 6-foot-10 center to be asked whether he received special benefits as a member of a Huntsville, Ala., AAU team run by Huntsville businessman Mark Komara.

Jackson said his inquiries suggest that the NCAA has an ongoing investigation into Komara’s AAU program and that Stone, who transferred from the University of Kentucky, is the latest of Komara’s former players to be approached. He added that he hasn’t heard anything to make him believe that any school is a target of the investigation.

John Carns, U of L’s associate athletic director for compliance, said that he will be at tomorrow’s meeting but added that U of L hasn’t been notified that it is the subject of an investigation. Spokesman Brooks Downing said that UK – where Stone played 2 1/2 seasons after leaving Huntsville’s Grissom High School – hasn’t been contacted, either.

Still, the absence of notification doesn’t guarantee that the NCAA isn’t looking. It interviewed three Auburn players in September, then served the school with a preliminary letter of inquiry in October regarding the basketball program’s dealings with Komara. Auburn’s Brandon Johnson missed the first 13 games of the season after being found to have received improper benefits.

Komara did not return phone messages to his business yesterday, nor did his attorney, Behrouz Rahmati.

“Based on the nature of the other people who have been interviewed and from what we’ve been able to determine, the focus of the questions is going to be whether Marvin received extra benefits in that (AAU) program,” Jackson said. “And the answer to that question is absolutely no.”

If Stone were guilty of receiving improper benefits, he could be declared ineligible or be subject to smaller penalties.

Pitino isn’t worried about Stone missing games, but Jackson said Bill Saum, the NCAA’s director of agents, amateurism and gambling, had given him reason to believe Stone’s eligibility could be at issue.

Saum couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday by The Courier-Journal and declined comment when questioned by The Associated Press. NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said the organization does not comment on interviews with student-athletes.

When asked whether the NCAA had advised him that Stone’s eligibility could be in jeopardy, Jackson replied, “Yes. Absolutely.

“As a matter of fact, I was told if we did not submit him to questioning by their attorney and he did not cooperate to their satisfaction – essentially without preparation because of his schedule – that his eligibility might be in question.”

Jackson said he asked that the meeting be delayed but the NCAA refused. He said he had spoken to Stone for only about 10 minutes since taking the case on Thursday and would have little chance to talk with him before the meeting because the Cardinals play at Cincinnati today.

“Essentially, I was told that he didn’t need to be prepared and that he didn’t even need an attorney,” Jackson said. “At the same time, they are not even willing to give us specific information as to what the questions are about, but they want Marvin to be able to walk in and talk ad nauseam about things that happened five or six years ago.”

Jackson is the legal guardian of former U of L player Daouda Cisse, who left the team before Pitino’s first season and transferred to Knoxville College in Tennessee.

Stone has started all 17 of his games at U of L and has averaged 11.6 points and a team-best 7.6 rebounds. He met with Pitino briefly on the matter yesterday morning but wasn’t made available for comment.

NCAA investigators have interviewed several of Komara’s former players in the past year, notably the players at Auburn. The investigation also has reached into the high school ranks, with interviewers speaking to Mississippi high school star Jackie Butler, who committed to Mississippi State last fall. Also interviewed last fall was Cincinnati guard Chadd Moore, a former standout at Lee High School in Huntsville and later Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Moore did not miss any games.

To comply with NCAA amateurism guidelines, AAU programs may provide athletes with expenses for travel, meals and equipment in connection with competitions but nothing else.

Pitino said he expects the interview to be routine and said it shouldn’t distract Stone.

“I don’t think there is a situation,” he said. “The NCAA randomly comes in to speak to players from time to time to find out either about his past, to find out about other people. . . . You don’t know whether they’re speaking about Marvin or if they want to know something else about somebody else. I hope they’re not wasting their money trying to find out where to eat in town.”

Feb. 24, 2003

Stone’s lawyer says NCAA reps are ‘fishing’;
U of L center spends 2 1/2 hours answering questions about past


University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich described yesterday’s 2 1/2-hour session in which two NCAA investigators questioned Cardinals basketball player Marvin Stone as “an exchange of information.”

Don Jackson, Stone’s attorney in Montgomery, Ala., called it “a fishing expedition.”

No one, however, would speculate what it means to Stone’s eligibility.

Jurich and U of L officials cited Stone’s right to confidentiality in declining to comment on specifics of the meeting. Stone couldn’t be reached for comment, and NCAA policy forbids its representat
ives from commenting.

But Jackson, who refused an NCAA request to sign a confidentiality agreement, is under no such obligation. Participating in the meeting by conference call from his Alabama office, he said the interview consisted mostly of questions concerning details from the book, “Sole Influence: Basketball, Corporate Greed and the Corruption of America’s Youth,” written by Dan Wetzel and Don Yaeger and published in 2000.

It includes a chapter on Stone’s Amateur Athletic Union and high school career in Huntsville, Ala., including allegations that his family received money for a high school transfer, questions over how he obtained a 1992 Ford Explorer at the age of 16 and accusations that Stone was paid directly or indirectly because of his basketball talents.

Jackson said none of the questions was directed toward events during Stone’s career or recruitment at the University of Kentucky or his short stint at U of L. He said the primary questioner was Deana Garner, an NCAA representative on agent, gambling and amateurism activities. He said Jurich and U of L compliance director John Carns also attended, though basketball coach Rick Pitino did not.

“As we thought, they really wanted to question him on issues about his AAU team,” Jackson said. “I was somewhat surprised though that, really, everything covered seemed to come right out of the Wetzel book. . . . They should pay him some royalties or something.”

Jackson said the session amounted to “once again rehashing some baseless, ridiculous accusations that have been addressed in the past.”

Jackson had a copy of the book in his briefcase. He had reviewed the chapter on Stone on Saturday night. And he said that yesterday, after the first couple of questions, he realized the NCAA investigators were following the issues outlined in the book.

He said the longest line of questioning concerned the minutiae of basketball life in the AAU, an organization that sanctions summer-league play and traveling teams, along with many other sports activities. He said Stone was asked about his involvement with an AAU program sponsored by Huntsville businessman Mark Komara.

He got several questions about meal money, how much was given, how it was distributed and whether players ever spent the money on things other than meals. He was asked about travel expenses, particularly about spending money he was alleged to have received during a trip to Detroit.

Jackson said Stone was asked whether Komara ever bought things for him and about his shoes, how many the players received – how many he received and whether they would have been of the same type and value as those his teammates got.

As for his transfer from Butler High School in Huntsville to Grissom High – which a former Butler coach alleges in the book was brokered by Komara – Stone was asked whether he or his family received any compensation.

Jackson said Stone answered that he transferred because Grissom was stronger academically.

As for the Explorer, Stone was asked how it was obtained and whether Komara had anything to do with it. Jackson said Stone answered that his parents had financed its purchase on their own.

“By now,” Jackson said, “that must be the most famous Ford truck in America. These questions have been asked and answered many, many times. Marvin answered everything truthfully. He has done nothing wrong. If these were legitimate issues, he would have been ruled ineligible three years ago. Any negative inference you could draw from that book, they drew it and asked about it.”

Jackson said he asked at one point why these questions were being asked now – during the final weeks of Stone’s senior season – about a book published three years ago chronicling events that had happened six to seven years ago.

“They said that they were asking because of what they termed as recent allegations,” Jackson said. “But they would not disclose when those allegations were made or who made them. They would ask a question like this: ‘Do you know why a person would say this about you,’ and then follow with some kind of allegation. And when I asked who made the allegation and when, they would respond, ‘We’re not obligated to say that,’ and then go on to ask Marvin, ‘Why would a person say it?’

“Under those conditions, it’s very difficult. In a courtroom, you know your accuser and what you’re accused of. Here, you don’t.”

Jackson said he went through the NCAA’s amateurism bylaws one by one and asked whether Stone was believed to be in violation of any. He said he was told, “No, we’re not accusing him of violating anything.”

“Yet,” Jackson said, “it’s like being brought into the prosecutor’s office and being told that they’re not accusing you, but answer these questions and then let us go back and see if any of this constitutes a violation.”

Jackson said that at no time did the NCAA investigators give any direct indication of whether Stone was in jeopardy of having his eligibility questioned.

Feb. 26, 2003

NCAA wants to talk to Stone’s mother


University of Louisville center Marvin Stone is still eligible and practiced yesterday, according to school officials, but the NCAA continues to look into his Amateur Athletic Union and high school careers.

The senior’s attorney, Don Jackson, said yesterday that the NCAA has asked to interview Stone’s mother, Lois, but that she is refusing to speak with the organization. Jackson alleged that an NCAA attorney told him that if Lois Stone doesn’t speak with investigators, her son could be sanctioned under Article 10 of the NCAA administrative bylaws, which governs unethical conduct.

Article 10.1.1(a) includes as an example of unethical conduct: “Refusal to furnish information relevant to an investigation of a possible violation of an NCAA regulation when requested to do so by the NCAA or the individual’s institution.”

The bylaw doesn’t mention family members.

Jackson called any attempt to punish Stone for his mother’s refusal to speak to investigators “unconscionable.”

“The NCAA has no jurisdiction over Marvin Stone’s family,” he said. “I hate to sound frustrated, but I am. To threaten to take a player’s eligibility if his mother doesn’t want to submit to an interview is ridiculous.”

The NCAA interviewed Stone for 2I hours Sunday, then phoned him at around 11 that night with more questions. Jackson said that 30-minute discussion was billed as a series of follow-up questions by the NCAA, but it quickly ran into new ground about Stone and his relationship with Huntsville, Ala., AAU director Mark Komara.

“I don’t think they cared much that he had an 8 o’clock class on Monday,” Jackson said.

Feb. 28, 2003

U of L hires attorney in Stone investigation


The University of Louisville has hired attorney Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA director of enforcement, to work on its behalf during the ongoing NCAA investigation of senior center Marvin Stone.

Stone’s attorney, Don Jackson, said yesterday that Smrt interviewed Stone’s mother, Lois, and Stone’s former Amateur Athletic Union director, Mark Komara, who is the subject of many of the NCAA’s inquiries, during a conference call yesterday afternoon.

Jackson said Smrt participated in a call between U of L officials and the NCAA later in the day.

Jackson did not participate in that call but said he thinks the NCAA may be turning up the pressure on U of L to bench Stone while it expands its investigation – including questions about the ownership of a sport utility vehicle that the NCAA alleges Stone drove while playing at the University of Kentucky.

Stone played in last night’s game against Marquette in Freedom Hall, but Jackson didn’t sound sure how many more times Stone might play.

“The NCAA did not say that he should sit out, but it seems they are moving in that direction,” Jackson said. “They continue to lengthen their investigation, asking for more and more information.”

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich and other U of L officials declined comment. Smrt couldn’t be reached for comment last night.

But U of L coach Rick Pitino didn’t sound optimistic after last night’s game, saying that the NCAA’s investigation of Stone at this point in the season “is not right.”

“I’m disappointed with the whole situation,” he said. “I’m a big believer in the NCAA and its principles, but I can tell you that this is as low as I’ve been. I don’t know what’s done in high school or AAU basketball, but I do know that this team has worked very hard for three months to get to a situation, and this is not right. I don’t agree with it.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not privy to all the discussions. But I can tell you this, if you want to clean it up, it’s all or nothing. . . . If not for AAU basketball coaches helping out kids, there would not be a Final Four. There would not be an NCAA Tournament. So yes, I believe in cleaning up everything that’s wrong with our game, but you can’t do this to a basketball team.

“I’m extremely disappointed, because we are the NCAA. It’s an awful situation. It’s very disruptive.”

After the game Stone said: “It’s been hard on me. I have no idea where it came from, but I can’t speak about what it is.”

Jackson said the NCAA is investigating more areas of Stone’s relationship and that of his family to Komara, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman and AAU director who has been the subject of speculation since Stone’s high school years.

Jackson said Stone and his family have in recent days provided more documentation regarding a 1992 Ford Explorer that Stone began driving after his 16th birthday.

“We can’t provide them with enough information on the same, old subjects,” Jackson said. “It is frustrating that they can base an investigation on one flimsy allegation from somebody who is hacked off at Mark Komara, then they require you to disprove it six or seven ways. At a certain point, it just becomes ridiculous. But it appears that this thing is going to keep going on, and we’ll continue to do what we can.”

March 2, 2003

U of L benches Stone pending NCAA ruling;
Player’s lawyer: Decision could come tomorrow


The University of Louisville held senior Marvin Stone out of yesterday’s basketball game against East Carolina while waiting for the NCAA to rule on his eligibility.

Stone’s attorney, Don Jackson, said that a ruling – on whether Stone and his family accepted impermissible benefits from an Alabama businessman – could come as early as tomorrow, and that he remains optimistic that Stone could return. U of L officials wouldn’t speculate as to when he might play next, or if he would play at all.

Athletic director Tom Jurich, in consultation with university attorneys and compliance officials, made the decision yesterday morning after a call with the NCAA in which he learned that Stone’s eligibility remained in question even after briefs had been filed on his behalf Friday.

Had Stone played yesterday, and the NCAA ruled later that he was ineligible, U of L could have faced sanctions – including forfeiting the game.

U of L coach Rick Pitino was notified through a phone call from assistant coach Mick Cronin about 9 a.m., three hours before tipoff.

Stone sat on the bench in street clothes and declined to comment after the game, which U of L won 82-76.

“We’re just trying to be cooperative in the process and do everything the right way, following the NCAA’s lead,” Jurich said. “And I’m confident we’re doing that.”

Jackson said the unresolved issues involve whether Huntsville, Ala., businessman Mark Komara, the director of the Amateur Athletic Union team for which Stone played before his senior season of high school, had an established relationship with Stone and his family before Stone’s emergence as a prospect.

According to NCAA rule interpretations, established family friends may provide benefits to athletes under certain circumstances that otherwise would not be allowed.

Of particular concern are two incidents that occurred while Stone was playing at the University of Kentucky. (Stone transferred to U of L last year.)

The first concern, Jackson said, was a trip by Stone’s mother, Lois, to the adidas Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas during the summer of 2001. She went as a chaperone for Komara’s Amateur Athletic Union teams and is alleged by the NCAA to have received improper benefits – in excess of general travel and lodging expenses – in that capacity.

The second incident came in Stone’s final semester at UK, when his 1992 Ford Explorer broke down during a trip to Alabama. Jackson said Komara let Stone drive his Chevrolet Suburban back to UK, then drove up days later in Stone’s car to switch vehicles.

“I don’t see how any of those constitutes an NCAA violation of any kind, if you accept the fact that Komara has been a longtime friend of Marvin, and really more than that,” Jackson said. “Mark Komara isn’t like family to Marvin, he really is family, particularly after the death of Marvin’s father (during Stone’s senior year of high school).

“Was Mark Komara a UK booster? Absolutely not. So there should be no problem with his having Mrs. Stone serve as a chaperone in Las Vegas, which is certainly not a place that the NCAA wants high school players running around unsupervised.

“And with the Suburban, Marvin’s car had broken down. He had to get back to school. Mark Komara called the Kentucky coaches and said, ‘I’m doing this. I can’t drive him back.’ It’s what any kid’s father would have done.”

UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart reiterated that UK has not been contacted by the NCAA and is not involved in the case. He would not comment on Jackson’s statements regarding the Suburban.

NCAA OFFICIALS could not be reached for comment, and Jurich declined to comment beyond a general statement. Lois Stone and Komara couldn’t be reached for comment.

Jackson said he has provided the NCAA with information documenting a relationship between Komara and the Stone family dating to the early 1980s, including records that show Stone’s father had worked for Komara as early as 1985.

“The frustrating thing is that, after we apparently satisfied all of the questions they originally had (regarding benefits Stone was accused of receiving in high school), they only came to us with another set of allegations,” Jackson said.

Pitino could empathize with the frustration. He said when Cronin called to give him the news, he replied, “I asked him, ‘Is it my decision to make?’ And he said, ‘Coach, you didn’t hear me. He’s not playing.’ “

But Pitino said he understood the university’s action.

“The university has to make the decision,” he said. “If I had to make the decision, he would have played. That doesn’t mean I’m going against the university. I’m a soldier in their army. I know why they do it. I’ve just alw
ays based it on right and wrong. That’s how I make decisions in life as a coach. But in the world of doing the politically correct stuff and understanding certain things, they sat him out in light of what went on a few years ago. The university is probably making a prudent decision.”

Jackson said he believed the university had been pressured to bench Stone before the Marquette game on Thursday night, but didn’t because it had yet to make its full case to the NCAA. He said university attorneys filed briefs with the NCAA on Friday.

PITINO SAID the investigation “has nothing to do with the University of Louisville,” and Jackson agreed that at no point in his involvement have investigators alleged any wrongdoing by U of L or UK. Should Stone be ruled ineligible, he said, sanctions against either school seem unlikely.

Jackson also said yesterday that he didn’t believe any violations would be found involving Stone.

“I can’t see any basis for sitting him out,” Jackson said. “But I certainly understand the university’s position. In many ways, they don’t have a choice.”

Jackson said he expects a new round of dialogue with the NCAA to begin tomorrow. He said that he currently has no plans to go to court independently of U of L’s negotiations, but he wouldn’t rule that out.

“You want to give the NCAA’s process a chance to work,” he said. “But if it begins to look futile, litigation certainly becomes an option. I think Marvin certainly has some legal rights here, including getting the identities of the confidential informants against him.

“All I know is this: If they’re looking for a poster child for what’s wrong with the AAU system, they’ve picked the wrong guy. We’re still hopeful and optimistic that Marvin will be back on the court soon.”

March 5, 2003

Stone cleared, will play tonight;
NCAA rules that relationship with AAU director OK


The curious college basketball career of Marvin Stone will end on the court, not in one.

The University of Louisville senior learned yesterday that an NCAA investigation found no violations in his past and that he will be allowed to return to the court when the No. 15-ranked Cardinals visit DePaul tonight at 8:30.

The final chapter of Stone’s unusual career had been put on hold since Saturday, when U of L officials benched him as the NCAA investigated whether he had received improper benefits from Mark Komara, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman and Amateur Athletic Union program director.

Yesterday U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said that the NCAA agreed with Stone and school officials that the relationship with Komara was one that long predated Stone’s basketball career, thereby allowing some benefits that otherwise would be impermissible.

“The university continues to look at all sides of this,” Jurich said, “but based upon all information to date, there is no violation of amateurism rules and Marvin is cleared to play.”

Coach Rick Pitino said Stone has continued to practice with the team and will return to the starting lineup.

“We’re delighted to have Marvin back on this team,” Pitino said last night. “Now I can continue to work on my 37th different offensive set in the last 48 hours.”

The NCAA approached U of L on Feb. 14, asking to meet with Stone to discuss issues pertaining to his AAU career while in high school in Alabama. A 2I-hour meeting took place Feb. 23, along with a 30-minute follow-up interview about 11 that evening

The interview was a distraction, however. The day before it took place, the Cards played their worst game of the season, a 101-80 blowout loss at Cincinnati. And Pitino complained again about the timing of the investigation after U of L lost 78-73 to Marquette in Freedom Hall last Thursday.

Although the NCAA originally questioned Stone about benefits he was alleged to have received during his high school years, it later moved to several incidents that occurred when he was at the University of Kentucky. They included Stone driving Komara’s automobile from Huntsville to Lexington and benefits his mother received while serving as a chaperone for Komara’s AAU team.

Before the Cards’ next game, on Saturday against East Carolina, U of L officials were advised by the NCAA that Stone should sit out, and he did.

On Monday, Stone’s mother, Lois, spoke by phone to NCAA investigators for just more than three hours. Yesterday’s decision came down in the late afternoon. U of L got an initial call just before the team plane left for Chicago, and by the time the plane landed Jurich had received a formal notice.

“I’m so happy to be back on the court,” Stone said. “I want to thank all the people that supported me. I can’t wait to help our team get as deep as we can in the tournament.”

Stone’s attorney Don Jackson, who had held out the possibility of legal action if Stone was kept out, said: “I’m thrilled with the decision, as is the entire Stone family. We may have some other issues to work through, but none that will keep him off the court. In the end, it’s the right decision, and we’re very grateful for this outcome.”

NCAA representatives could not be reached last night.

Stone, who is averaging 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, will bring muchneeded size back into the Cardinals’ lineup, particularly after the loss of starting forward Ellis Myles to a season-ending knee injury. His return also could help the Cards’ NCAA Tournament seeding, with one factor considered by the NCAA Selection Committee being the availability of players.

“He’ll be ready to go,” Pitino said. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”

March 8, 2003

Stone in NCAA limbo again;
Wire transfers questioned, his attorney says


University of Louisville basketball player Marvin Stone’s future will be back in the hands of an NCAA membership services committee this morning after NCAA investigators raised more questions about his amateur status yesterday.

This time investigators came armed with a stack of Western Union money transfers to Stone from members of his family and one for $20 from a fellow U of L student, according to his attorney, Don Jackson.

The wire transfers dated to 2000, Jackson said, adding that the NCAA had about 12 of them, ranging in value from $20 to $150 – along with one for $450 that was sent to a different Marvin Stone, a 53-yearold project engineer for Marriott in Atlanta.

Jackson said Stone was questioned as part of a five-hour conference call with the NCAA yesterday. Jackson insisted that none of the transfers constituted an NCAA violation.

U of L coach Rick Pitino clearly was frustrated as he sat down for his pregame news conference. He delayed yesterday’s 3 p.m. practice until early evening, hoping to get clarification on the 6-foot-10 senior’s status but never got it. U of L officials and attorney Chuck Smrt worked into the night on a brief that will be reviewed and likely ruled upon by an NCAA membership services committee this morning.

U of L athletic director Tom Jurich said the school would abide by that committee’s wishes. NCAA officials couldn’t be reached last night.

“It’ll be a good night’s sleep,” Pitino said sarcastically. “Our game plan is changing. It’s the most b
izarre situation I have ever been in. You know, we were 18-1 before Marvin ever hears from the NCAA. . . . Right now I just don’t know what to think, but we have to plan as if we’re going to be without him.”

The round of questioning comes just three days after an NCAA membership services committee found no violation in various allegations relating to Stone’s relationship with Huntsville, Ala., AAU director Mark Komara. The committee agreed with U of L that Komara’s prior relationship with Stone’s family allowed him to provide benefits for Stone that otherwise might constitute violations.

Jackson said the NCAA had questioned Stone about the Western Union transactions when it interviewed him Feb. 23 but picked up the subject with new vigor yesterday.

“They called me Thursday, the day after Marvin’s first game back, and wanted to do a big conference call, and I said, ‘We’re not going to do it,’ ” Jackson said. “And then we did this call yesterday, for which Marvin missed two classes. At this point I believe all of this is having a negative impact on Marvin both in the classroom and on the court.

“This is nothing short of harassment. These investigators didn’t get the ruling they wanted, so they pulled out something else just as ridiculous, and they’re trying to see if they can make something out of those.”

Stone couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday. But another Marvin Stone – the one who lives in Atlanta could be. He received a $450 Western Union wire transfer from an associate in Louisville last Nov. 15.

Jackson said NCAA representative Deana Garner confronted U of L’s Stone with the receipt yesterday and asked what he knew about it, telling the player that she called the phone number on the receipt and a voice recording answered, saying, “This is Marvin,” and she told Stone, “It’s your voice.”

While the questioning was going on, Jackson said Jurich referred to a basketball practice log that showed Stone was in Louisville in individual instruction at 11:15 a.m. and in practice at 4 p.m. on the day in question. Meanwhile, Jackson got the phone number to which Garner referred and called it. Marvin Stone of Atlanta answered.

“I was shocked,” the mistaken Stone said. “I had a thousand things running through my head. All I do is watch college basketball. What did the NCAA want with me?”

He said his shock quickly gave way to anger.

“I got that money from someone in Louisville for a personal thing to take care of, and it isn’t anybody’s business,” he said. “I don’t like that they had a copy of the Western Union paper, and even so, why didn’t they just call and talk to me and ask about it? It would have taken them five minutes. Instead, they try and use it to hurt a college basketball player. You’re not going to confuse us. He’s 6-10 and I’m 5-7.

“The lawyer who called me (Jackson) tried to put me onto the line to talk to them, but they didn’t want to talk to me. All of a sudden I hear this woman from the NCAA (Garner), and she’s hollering. She doesn’t want to talk to me, doesn’t want my number. She just went off. I couldn’t believe she was a lawyer. It was almost like listening to a scolding of a child: ‘You don’t tell me what to do.’ No profanity, but a very authoritative tone. And I’m asking myself what did I do? I’m the one who has had his privacy invaded. I don’t appreciate it.”

The Atlanta Stone said he intends to file formal complaints with Western Union and the NCAA.

Western Union’s media relations office couldn’t be reached last night. A privacy statement on its Web site said that it is company policy not to provide transaction information to third parties without a release from the sender or recipient.

U of L’s Marvin Stone signed a waiver allowing the NCAA access to his credit records, bank accounts and other personal information. Marvin Stone of Atlanta said he signed no such agreement.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Pitino are scratching their heads.

“Marvin is a good person,” Pitino said. “The system, unfortunately is extremely flawed, extremely flawed. My own personal opinion in coming back from the pros to college is that right now there’s a Marvin Stone on just about every basketball team in America, if not multiple Marvin Stones. . . .

“I still don’t believe the NCAA has it in for the University of Louisville, but I do feel that if the presidents, the athletic directors, the coaches and whoever makes these decisions do not get together on the amateurism issue, this is just a tempest in a teapot. . . . This could happen with any team in America.”

March 9, 2003

U of L’s Stone benched by NCAA; school plans appeal;
Money transfers appear to be issue


University of Louisville basketball player Marvin Stone was held out of last night’s game against Charlotte based on a “rules interpretation” delivered yesterday by the NCAA, school officials announced.

The university would not provide any specifics regarding the ruling, but Stone’s attorney, Don Jackson, said it involved Western Union money transfers that Stone has received from family members. Jackson said he could not cite a specific NCAA bylaw that Stone is alleged to have violated.

Athletic director Tom Jurich said that U of L attorneys would appeal the NCAA’s decision tomorrow and that they hope to have it overturned. Until the matter is settled, however, Stone will be considered ineligible, he said.

Jurich said he received word on Stone’s status yesterday afternoon and notified Cardinals coach Rick Pitino about four hours before last night’s game, which U of L won 100-59. Stone also was held out of a home game last weekend.

“We’re all very much surprised by this,” Pitino said. “We didn’t think it was a big deal. Of everyone at the university, nobody felt that this would happen.”

Jackson said the four wire transfers came from aunts and uncles of Stone and totaled no more than $425. He said all but one was received before the 6-foot-10 center transferred to U of L from the University of Kentucky last year. Neither school faces any penalty, according to NCAA bylaws.

Jurich has been guarded in his comments since U of L was approached by the NCAA on Feb. 14. But he expressed frustration yesterday.

“We’re obviously extremely disappointed with the ruling,” he said. “For this to happen on Senior Night to a team already short-handed is extremely disappointing. We will continue to pursue all avenues of the case.”

Jackson said he’s still unclear what Stone is accused of. He said the NCAA continues to invoke Bylaw 10, involving ethical conduct, while asserting that Stone is in violation of amateurism rules.

According to that bylaw, among the actions considered to constitute unethical conduct is “refusal to furnish information relevant to an investigation of a possible violation of an NCAA regulation when requested to do so by the NCAA.”

NCAA BYLAWS DO NOT prohibit gifts from

family members. In the case of improper benefits, any of $50 or less may be repaid with no suspension. Benefits exceeding $50 carry a loss of eligibility.

The NCAA’s interim associate director of media relations, Laronica Conway, was asked by The Courier-Journal to provide clarification of rules regarding benefits from family members, but said she could not answer questions involving an ongoing investigation.

“I just want someone to tell me where the violation is in receiving money from a family member,” Jackson said. “All I can assume is that they believe that the source of the funds that the family members sent was some kind of illicit
source. But they are stretching. What they are really doing is trying to send a national message through Marvin Stone. But this ruling today, this was wrong.”

Jackson said he expects the ruling to be overturned when another membership services committee considers it tomorrow.

“I looked through that rule book all day today and I can’t see where there’s a violation,” Pitino said.

“I’m sure the NCAA understands what they’re doing. I have great respect for them, but I believe the NCAA is there for the student-athlete. I think he will be back. I don’t think he will sit any more games, in my estimation, because I think they understand what’s right and what’s wrong. They made a ruling today that wasn’t right, but I still believe in their principles.”

Stone attended last night’s game and participated in Senior Night introductions, but he declined to comment on the latest development.

He also sat out last Saturday’s game against East Carolina, while the NCAA looked into benefits that he and his mother received from Mark Komara, a Huntsville, Ala., businessman and Amateur Athletic Union program director.

A member services committee ruled earlier this week that Komara’s prior relationship with Stone’s family allowed him to provide benefits for Stone that otherwise would have been impermissible, and Stone was allowed to play Wednesday at DePaul.

ALTHOUGH SHE REFUSED to answer questions about the case, the NCAA’s Conway contacted The Courier-Journal yesterday to clarify two issues from a story that ran in yesterday’s editions.

Conway said she wanted to make clear that NCAA representative Deanna Garner never had a direct conversation with Marvin Stone of Atlanta, whose Western Union transaction of $450 from Nov. 15, 2002, was acquired by the NCAA and mistakenly alleged to have belonged to U of L’s Stone.

Conway also said the Cardinals’ starting center was given the opportunity to leave a four-hour meeting on Friday to attend class.

Jackson laughed at that assertion.

“He had already missed one class and the other one had already started,” Jackson said. “When they learned he was missing classes, they clearly started to feel bad. But by that point, it was too late.”

The Courier-Journal was unable to contact the NCAA for the story in yesterday’s editions. Since the investigation began, NCAA representatives have refused any comment on the case.

March 13, 2003

Center’s status still uncertain


Hours after the University of Louisville decided to withhold Marvin Stone from the Cardinals’ first-round Conference USA Tournament game yesterday, a team of university attorneys left for Indianapolis to meet with NCAA enforcement staff. Their mission was to learn what information the organization has gathered against Stone, his attorney said.

Yesterday morning, an NCAA rules interpretations subcommittee cleared Stone of any violations in his receipt of Western Union money transfers over the past three years. But his attorney, Don Jackson, said that NCAA enforcement officials carrying out the investigation advised U of L they still have reason to believe that Stone may be guilty of violations.

That led U of L to keep its 6foot-10 center on the bench for the third time in four games, Jackson said. If the university played Stone and he later was found guilty of those violations, U of L could be subject to NCAA penalties.

Jackson said yesterday that he had no idea what those violations might be and that no specific allegation had been brought to his attention. But he acknowledged that the enforcement staff has accused Stone’s family members and others who were interviewed during its investigation of lying.

“They got a decision that they didn’t like, and so they attack the witnesses,” Jackson said. “This is like acquitting someone, then trying him for perjury. Because what they say doesn’t prove your case, you’re not going to believe them.”

Jackson said he was told by university counsel Angela Koshewa that a group of U of L attorneys would meet with NCAA officials yesterday afternoon and report back to athletic director Tom Jurich and university president James Ramsey. For the time being, Jackson said, Stone’s playing status will be reviewed daily.

Jurich, compliance director John Carns and other U of L officials signed a confidentiality agreement with the NCAA that prohibits them from discussing specifics of the situation. Stone also declined to comment.

In a statement released just prior to game time yesterday, the U of L sports information office said that Stone, “has not been cleared to play.”

Jackson took issue with that wording.

“I was informed this morning by university counsel that Stone had been cleared of the charges involving the Western Union money transfers and that there would be an institutional decision made as to where they would go from there,” Jackson said. “I got a call several hours later saying that the university had decided not to play him, and I was stunned.

“The only issue before any NCAA committee was the issue of the Western Union transfers. When he was cleared of that, he was clear to play, just as he was when he was cleared on the questions of his relationship with (Huntsville, Ala., AAU director) Mark Komara. The university now is worried about the NCAA pulling a rabbit out of its hat.”

It may be worried about more than that. NCAA officials won’t comment on specific cases, but spokesperson Melody Lawrence yesterday said that defying an enforcement committee advisory could later result in sanctions against a university.

“If the institution competes a player and the enforcement staff believes there is good reason to determine that that player is not eligible, the enforcement staff could charge the institution with an NCAA violation,” Lawrence said.

She said the severity of the violation could vary depending on the seriousness of the case, ranging from secondary violations to questions of institutional control.

Jurich isn’t likely to risk the latter. When the university was dealing with the eligibility of Muhamed Lasege two years ago, Jurich said he had promised the school’s Board of Trustees that it never would be forced to deal with a major NCAA infraction on his watch.

While Jackson was frustrated with the university’s actions in benching Stone, he praised the move of meeting with the NCAA yesterday.

“At a certain point the university has to step up and say, ‘If you have something, you have to make us aware of it,’ ” Jackson said.

But Jackson also said he has begun to put a bit more legal heat on the university as the clock winds down on Stone’s college career. His eligibility will be exhausted after the Cards’ final NCAA Tournament game, and the tournament begins next week.

“I don’t want to make this into Marvin Stone vs. the University of Louisville,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if that would be productive for Marvin or his teammates or the university. It’s really too late in the season for that. But depending on what happens, we may very well be heading in that direction.”

The NCAA inquiry began in the middle of February. The NCAA first had to clear Stone of a charge that Komara had provided him with improper benefits. It did so by ruling that Komara had a relationship with Stone’s family that predated his basketball career.

The Western Union money transfers in question came from family members and one friend in Huntsville and totaled about $450.

U of L coach Rick Pitino said that Stone had gotten into his uniform when the coach had to tell the team that Stone w
ouldn’t play. After the game, Pitino had little to say.

“I thought a thousand percent he was playing,” Pitino said. “I’m really emotionally drained with the whole situation. So I’m not going to talk about it. . . . I don’t think anything I could say right now would be very upbeat and positive. . . . At the end of the year, I’ll have my comments on what went on, and it won’t be a pretty sight.”

Meanwhile, Jackson said yesterday that at least one NCAA investigator remained in Huntsville, Stone’s hometown. She visited a restaurant owned by Komara, according to Jackson, and also visited his home.

“They’re down there digging,” Jackson said. “If they’ve got any violations on Marvin Stone, why are they still investigating?

“I’ll tell you this, if they had something big on Marvin, we wouldn’t have spent the past three weeks talking about $400 worth of money transfers.”

From here, the process appears to rest in U of L’s hands. The NCAA, while continuing to investigate Stone, has made no additional charges and its time frame for doing so would be uncertain. U of L must either satisfy to its own legal satisfaction that it can play Stone without fear of sanctions from the NCAA or convince NCAA officials that Stone is guilty of no violations.

Jackson wonders whether either can be accomplished before Stone runs out of time.

“We’re hoping for an overnight change,” Jackson said. “But at this point, I don’t know how many other ways we can find to prove that Marvin has done nothing wrong.”

March 15, 2003

Stone is back


The University of Louisville sent basketball player Marvin Stone back into action yesterday despite a warning from the NCAA that its enforcement committee still believes Stone to be guilty of violations.

The 6-10 senior center scored 15 points last night as U of L beat Memphis 78-75 to reach the championship game of the Conference USA Tournament in Freedom Hall.

U of L President James Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich made the call after a team of U of L attorneys met with National Collegiate Athletic Association officials late into the night Thursday, gathering as much information as they could about the NCAA’s case against Stone.

After viewing that information, Jurich and Ramsey said yesterday that they are “very confident” that they are not putting the school at serious risk of NCAA sanctions by playing Stone, who has been cleared of two previous allegations.

Ramsey said the school was not 100 percent free of risk, and Jurich said he expected further inquiries about Stone from the NCAA.

“I wish life was more certain than it is,” Ramsey said. “But it’s not. You just have to analyze all of the information you can collect and make your best decision.”

Jurich said: “As information flows in, we have to examine it with the tightest scrutiny. But as of now, we are going to play Marvin Stone the rest of the way.”

Neither Jurich nor Ramsey would elaborate on what information the school obtained from the NCAA, stating only that there was some new information involved. Neither would speculate on what further allegations the NCAA might make against Stone.

HOWEVER, JURICH did say U of L had received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA Thursday, indicating that enforcement officials still believe Stone to be guilty of NCAA violations.

Stone had missed three of the previous four games because of the NCAA investigation.

“It’s been tough; it really has,” Stone said after the game. “I’m not sure why this is happening. I just want to play basketball. It felt like a huge weight off of me tonight when I walked out on the court.”

Stone first was accused of receiving improper benefits from Huntsville, Ala., Amateur Athletic Union director Mark Komara but was cleared when the NCAA ruled that Komara was an established friend of Stone’s family.

Earlier this week, Stone was cleared by an NCAA rules interpretations committee for receiving four Western Union money transfers from family and friends over the past three years. But Stone’s attorney, Don Jackson, said yesterday that NCAA enforcement officials had accused some witnesses in that investigation of lying.

Because of those accusations and uncertainty over what other allegations the NCAA might make, Jurich said the school withheld Stone from competition Thursday despite his having been cleared by an NCAA subcommittee. Jurich said the decision was in the best interests of Stone and the university.

After yesterday’s decision, Jackson said, “We’re thrilled. . . . We understand the sensitive position that the university has been in and appreciate this action in Marvin’s behalf.”

NCAA spokesperson Melody Lawrence said that no one representing the organization is permitted to comment on specifics of investigations, and that the NCAA would have no official reaction to U of L’s decision.

ON THURSDAY, Lawrence said that “if the institution competes a player and the enforcement staff believes there is good reason to determine that that player is not eligible, the enforcement staff could charge the institution with an NCAA violation.”

U of L faced a similar decision in January 2000, when Muhammed Lasege sued the NCAA in Jefferson Circuit Court after being ruled ineligible for violating NCAA rules on amateurism. The court issued an injunction ordering U of L and the NCAA to reinstate Lasege, and after consultation with the NCAA and its attorneys, U of L allowed Lasege to play.

He saw action in 13 games as his case was upheld by the Kentucky Court of Appeals. But after the season, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled against him, and he never played again. NCAA rules state that U of L could be sanctioned for playing Lasege, even under a court order, but the NCAA has yet to take any action against the university.

LAWRENCE SAID possible sanctions vary widely depending on the seriousness of the infractions, but Jurich said yesterday that one reason university officials have acted with such caution is that penalties dished out for using a player who has been put on notice by NCAA enforcement officials can be aimed at the athletic department as a whole.

“Hopefully we’ve done enough due diligence to make sure that does not happen,” Jurich said. “We do not know, nor will we probably ever be informed of, the NCAA’s total position. We’re confident we have looked through every piece of information that has been made available to us – and I want to capitalize that, been made available to us – so we feel very good about this.”

Jurich said he expects Stone to continue playing unless the NCAA finds him in violation of a rule or notifies the school of a specific rules violation.

“I expect them to keep on coming,” Jackson said. “But they have been after him now for about a month – concerning issues that are four and five years old – and they have found nothing. At this point, if he’s guilty of a violation, they should declare him ineligible and be done with it. If he’s not, he should play.”

U of L men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino praised the university for its decision and called Stone the difference in yesterday’s game. His defense was part of a team effort that limited Chris Massie and Earl Barron, Memphis’ top two inside players, to 0-for12 shooting.

“I’M VERY proud of the University of Louisville for the efforts they put in,” Pitino said. “Unfortunately we had to spend more money than you can imagine to investigate what’s going on. And they had to, because you can’t put him on the floor until you’ve uncovered every stone. But they made that commitment, and we’re glad
to have him back.”

Stone said he found out about the decision around 11:30 a.m., before the team’s pregame walk-through. But he said he didn’t allow himself to believe he was playing until coming out of the tunnel just before the game. On Thursday, Stone thought he was playing until 10 minutes before game time, when he was told of the school’s decision to hold him out.

Stone had been reinstated once before, but he said that he played that game knowing that he might have to sit again, and wound up scoring only four points in a loss at DePaul.

“Tonight I felt like I was back to stay,” Stone said. “Coach came to me before the game and told me just to let the game come to me, just play defense and rebound, and we’ll win. . . . I’m just happy I could be a part of it.”


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