Arizona may have to get players reinstated for the opener

11/14/2008 - Arizona Wildcats

The Arizona men's basketball team may be faced with trying to secure the eligibility of as many as six players in time for Monday's opener against Florida Atlantic in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Tucson, Ariz.

Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN.com that the Wildcats have been working with the NCAA's Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee to determine if there is a need to declare six players -- sophomores Zane Johnson and Jamelle Horne and freshmen Garland Judkins, Brandon Lavender, Kyle Fogg and Alex Jacobson -- ineligible, and then seek their reinstatement as a procedural matter, if the players were given impermissible expenses while participating in the Cactus Classic, an AAU tournament held in May on Arizona's campus. Fogg and Horne started the Wildcats' exhibition win over Sonoma State on Wednesday.

Cactus Classic organizer Jim Storey said he spoke with the NCAA in August and has been in contact with the university about players who participated in the event from 2006-08. He said he didn't fly "anyone in for this event." He said none of the players received anything impermissible. At issue, according to a source, is whether or not players have to pay restitution, which could be as little as $50.

Arizona compliance director Bill Morgan said, "I can't make any comments" when reached by phone Thursday night. Athletic director Jim Livengood or interim head coach Russ Pennell did not return phone calls.

The procedure for an NCAA issue like this is common. The institution has to initiate the reinstatement process by initially ruling players ineligible and then seeking reinstatement from the Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee. The SAR can respond within hours and there is precedent for these cases to be cleaned up in the hours before a game. If there are a number of players involved, as was the case with Villanova a few years ago when it dealt with a phone card problem, the NCAA can stagger any suspensions.

If restitution is required before reinstatement the NCAA will take proof that payment will occur over time and restore eligibility.

If Arizona beats Florida Atlantic it would play either UAB or Santa Clara Tuesday to go to the NIT semifinals in New York over Thanksgiving.

The NCAA began to look into the Cactus Classic because of a violation that occurred in the spring.

In an interview with ESPN.com three days before he retired and a week before it was revealed that he had a stroke, Hall of Famer Lute Olson took responsibility for an NCAA violation that occurred in the offseason.

"I think that was my fault," Olson said. "That wasn't anyone else's fault. It was my error and it was a big error. But I guess in 26 years you are allowed to make a mistake once in a while anyway and that's not to say I haven't made a lot of them but in terms of that, that was a big mistake on my part."

The issue at hand is an undated letter that left the Arizona basketball office.

A "personal and confidential" letter was sent to the Rebounders Club board of directors with an electronic signature of Lute Olson. The letter was a request to club members to provide financial assistance to Jim Storey's Cactus Classic AAU tournament. It expressed how important this event is to the Arizona program for recruiting. Arizona has signed players who have participated in this camp. The letter states, "to ensure the future of this tournament, Jim needs support from private donations. The athletic department can't assist in any way. This is why your help is crucial."

Olson denied knowing the letter was being sent out. Arizona said athletic department personnel thought the letter was supposed to go out.

What is potentially troubling for Arizona is that on April 15, Olson introduced Storey at the Rebounders Club meeting. He turned the meeting over to Storey and then departed. Storey's presentation dealt with requesting financial assistance. The presentation was two-plus minutes and, according to Arizona, not all of the people stayed. But the NCAA may want to question how Olson could have introduced Storey and not known his topic.

Olson did send a follow-up letter to boosters telling them the letter with his electronic signature was sent without his knowledge. He said that he was embarrassed by the letter and apologized because it was clearly a violation of NCAA rules.

"As soon as [I was] made aware we immediately followed that up with another letter and a lot of phone calls just to indicate that we cannot be involved in that," Olson said. "It's an important function for us but it's not something that we can, as a university, be involved in."

Olson said there was a lack of communication on the issue within the office.

Livengood said the school was fully cooperating with the NCAA but had no timetable on any kind of decision.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.