Wall, Sidney facing eligibility issues

Updated: October 23, 2009, 1:54 PM ET
By Dana O'Neil and Pat Forde | ESPN.com

SEC commissioner Mike Slive confirmed to ESPN.com that there are eligibility issues regarding both Kentucky top recruit John Wall and Mississippi State's top freshman Renardo Sidney.

Sidney's eligibility has been discussed for months. Mississippi State compliance director Bracky Brett told ESPN.com recently that Sidney wasn't eligible to compete yet but was eligible to practice as the school and Sidney's attorney work through amateurism issues.

But this is the first time it has been publicly acknowledged that there could be a question about Wall's eligibility.

A source also told ESPN.com that Kentucky has been investigating Wall's eligibility for months because his former AAU coach was a certified agent.

[+] EnlargeJohn Wall
Mark Zerof/US PresswireFreshman John Wall was a huge recruiting catch for new Kentucky coach John Calipari.

According to NCAA protocol, any case involving pre-enrollment amateurism issues would be investigated by the NCAA Eligibility Center. Wall and Sidney are eligible to practice but not compete until their amateur issues are resolved. If a player has an academic eligibility issue, he is not allowed to practice or compete.

"Those are amateur issues that arose prior to their coming to our schools," Slive said of Sidney and Wall. "Those are strictly amateurism issues. As we told our people, somebody needs to determine if they are eligible. It's not relative to you, it's relative to them."

Slive also said that he believes Wall and Sidney are the only SEC freshmen with unresolved eligibility issues.

"This is a very different thing than what I've been talking about for eight years," Slive said, referring to the SEC's outlaw image in terms of rule-breaking. "The culture is different now."

Brian Clifton, Wall's AAU coach, was a certified agent with FIBA, basketball's international governing body, for nearly a year. Under NCAA rule that equates to Wall accepting illegal benefits from an agent. Consequently Wall could have to repay any and all expenses Clifton footed during that period before he can play with Kentucky.

NCAA rule also stipulates that an athlete can be withheld from at least 10 percent of a team's games as part of the punishment.

A source told ESPN.com that the Kentucky compliance department had been working feverishly to clarify Wall's eligibility in recent weeks and had been going back to 2007 to see exactly how much money is owed. Wall made two unofficial visits to Kentucky that fall while Billy Gillispie was head coach -- in September he attended a UK-Louisville football game and in October he returned for the Wildcats' Big Blue Madness opening-night practice.

"My understanding is that all 13 players on our roster are eligible at this point," said UK media relations director DeWayne Peevy.

Peevy said that school privacy policies prevent Kentucky from discussing the eligibility of players. When asked whether Wall might be excluded from any games, Peevy said that information would be confidential.

"We won't release anything," Peevy said.

Clifton, the president of D-One Sports, previously admitted to being a certified agent but said he forfeited his license in August 2008 so he could devote his full attention to his AAU program.

"Absolutely I was a licensed agent," Clifton told CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish in August 2008. "But what I started and what I had given my life to was this [D-One Sports] program and I was about to watch it fall apart. Obviously I couldn't let that happen. So at that time -- after having not signed any clients -- I figured that program was the most important thing for me. … And that was the end of the agent thing."

Under the guidelines set by the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, agent violations can fall under two categories:

• If an individual accepts significant monetary benefits from an agent, his or her eligibility should not be reinstated.

• If an individual accepts benefits from an agent that are not significant enough to warrant permanent ineligibility, the student-athlete will be withheld for the violation and will be required to repay the value of the benefits.

The committee goes on to say that if a student-athlete accepts benefits from an agent greater than $101, the student-athlete will have to repay the money and be subject to a minimum 10 percent withholding condition -- in other words, withheld from 10 percent of a team's regular-season games.

"There can be mitigating circumstances, but the rule of thumb would be they'd have to pay back the money," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said, declining comment on Wall's particular case. "And if it was a significant amount they could potentially be withheld from games. The line in the sand is if an agent or whatever they want to call themselves was marketing an individual student-athlete or prospective student-athlete based on their athletic abilities. If so, there are potential issues."

Osburn also cited a rule that stipulates: "To maintain amateur status and NCAA eligibility, a student-athlete or their friends and family cannot have an agreement -- oral or written -- with an agent or accept benefits from an agent until his or her eligibility expires."

During Thursday's SEC media day, Kentucky coach John Calipari said Wall's basketball skills are ahead of former Memphis stars -- and current NBA players -- Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans -- at this stage.

"John right now is probably farther along today than they were," Calipari said. "Those two when they got it and they felt the offense, they were unleashed and they weren't afraid to make the play. When we're in a tough game and it's on the road, is he going to make the play that those two did? I have no idea."

With Wall and the other freshmen, the Wildcats are picked to win the SEC.

Since arriving at Kentucky after leaving Memphis, Calipari -- the highest-paid college basketball coach in the country with a salary nearing $4 million per year -- has brought renewed excitement to the Bluegrass State.

Before Thursday's reports questioning Wall's eligibility, Calipari had said that coaches are responsible for what goes on in their programs, but that it's difficult to control those outside of the programs.

He stressed during Kentucky's media day last week that the Wildcats' program will be run the right way.

"We will be a program rooted in integrity and run with class," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report

Dana O'Neil | email

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