Missing the point on Bledsoe

We’re seeing lots of commentary on what the ramifications could be for the University of Kentucky in this Eric Bledsoe academic situation in Alabama.

Several times today, I’ve seen or heard people say that if Bledsoe is declared to have been ineligible in Alabama, it could affect his NCAA eligibility.

I don’t believe that’s the case. Kansas player Darrell Arthur was declared retroactively ineligible for his high school in Texas, but high school athletic eligibility has nothing to do with college eligibility.

High school academic standing, however, has everything to do with college eligibility.

Even though it was found that Arthur and others had grades changed in Texas, because the state did not change Arthur’s transcript or revoke his diploma, there was no change in status for the NCAA to consider. Therefore, it had no effect on his NCAA standing and Kansas’ national championship.

So the thing to watch for Bledsoe is not what Alabama officials do with his athletic eligibility. If they find that something with his grades was amiss, they could make his Parker High School team forfeit all its games, or some other sanction. They could strike their records from the books, put the school on probation, etc.

None of that, however, would affect his standing at UK or with the NCAA. In that event, he would have a situation comparable to Arthur’s, and the story could reasonably be expected to fade away.

But if the state goes into Bledsoe’s transcript and makes changes or adjustments to his academic record, that’s when it gets more uncomfortable.

Because the NCAA has shown, in the case of Derrick Rose, that these cases can potentially carry a component of “strict liability.” That is, the player’s ineligibility is what it is regardless of a school’s culpability (or lack thereof).

What doesn’t, however, match with the Memphis situation — even in the event that Bledsoe’s grades are lowered — is the collaborative process that UK and the NCAA engaged in with regard to clearing Bledsoe to play. Not only did he go through the regular academic screening process, he went through an enhanced process. With SAT scores, there is no such collaboration. The testing service posts the score, the school gets it, sends it along, and that’s it.

So even if there’s a change of grade for Bledsoe, I think there’s still a significant question of whether the NCAA will take the step of vacating UK’s victories. It certainly could. If that strict liability interpretation were to hold, then UK would be vacating those wins (though NCAA bylaws say that in cases where the school is not found at fault, it does not have to return NCAA tournament money). Aside from invoking that strict liability, or some other development we don’t yet know about, I don’t know what rationale the NCAA would use to vacate the wins. To say that UK knew or should have known would seem to be a weak argument for the NCAA to make, since it became involved in the enhanced eligibility screening itself — though certainly, I could be wrong. This is just my own view.

In the event that there’s an academic change, the Derrick Rose comparison is more apt than the Darrell Arthur comparison.

And then, of course, there’s another possibility, that the state completely clears Bledsoe and moves on. And there’s also the possibility that the state finds more even than has already been reported.

But in looking at the possibilities, I think these following things — and ALL of these things — have to happen for UK to lose victories:

1). Bledsoe’s grades have to be found to be fraudulent
2). The state needs to take the step of correcting his transcript to reflect a lower grade
3). The NCAA has to decide that a situation of strict liability exists, despite the collaborative nature and extra scrutiny given to determining Bledsoe’s initial eligibility.

The chances of that? Even if you assume that the chances of No. 1 happening are good — even as high as 75 percent — the chances of the state taking action No. 2 is much lower, and the chances of the NCAA actually acting on No. 3 are lower still.

I’m not a mathematician or an expert in probability. But if you ask me the chances of UK having to vacate wins over this Bledsoe thing, I’m going to say 25 percent. Even that might be a tad high, but the issue has come this far, and there is a report on the table that a grade discrepancy exists.

So it could happen, but several other significant things have to happen first. And keeping your eye on the ball in this, from a UK perspective, means keeping your eye on the transcript.

You’ll hear a lot of talk and commentary on other facets of this story — and there are legitimate questions. You’ll hear a lot of discussion of what is and isn’t proper grade activity, and the suitability of correspondence and online courses, and whether you should take Algebra 2 or Algebra 3 first — and those are all important and worthwhile discussions.

But none of them, in the end, affect UK’s victory total.

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