Bledsoe fallout could penalize Wildcats
Revelations and allegations in a recent New York Times article that chronicle potential academic fraud and payment during Eric Bledsoe's high school career could have a ramifications for the University of Kentucky basketball program, despite the fact Bledsoe has declared for the upcoming NBA draft.
A source with knowledge of NCAA rules said "depending on the specific facts that come out," the NCAA's options include deeming Bledsoe ineligible, which could potentially lead to forfeited games or even a vacated season.
According to the story in the Times, Bledsoe's high school coach, Maurice Ford, paid the rent at the home that Bledsoe and his mother, Maureen Reddick, lived in during Bledsoe's senior year in high school. Bledsoe transferred to Parker High School after the school he attended for three years, Hayes High, closed. The transfer initially caught the attention of the Alabama High School Athletic Association because Bledsoe was moving to a school out of district. The head of the AHSSA said his group plans to look into the reported payments, The New York Times reported Saturday.
Because the NCAA recently changed its rules to include people associated with a prospect, that payment could be construed as an extra benefit, which could make Bledsoe ineligible under NCAA rules.
The source said that the NCAA Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee considers a four-prong test when deciding eligibility. The committee has leeway and considers case-by-case evidence, but failure to meet any of the four prongs could result in an athlete being rendered ineligible.
The committee would consider:
• Did the relationship develop as a result of the athlete's participation in athletics?
• Did the relationship predate the athlete's status as a prospect?
• Did the relationship predate the athlete's status achieved as a result of their athletics ability/reputation?
• Was the pattern of benefits provided before the athlete's notoriety similar to those provided after?
A source told ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz that Kentucky's compliance department wasn't concerned about Bledsoe's admission and that the university had "no knowledge of any illicit benefits prior to enrolling." In a statement issued Saturday, the school said: "Often high profile student-athletes are selected for an extensive prospective student-athlete (PSA) review. Eric Bledsoe participated in the normal academic review process and also an extensive PSA review by the NCAA Eligibility Center and was cleared academically."
While the extent of the university's knowledge of the situation certainly would be considered, it alone may not keep Kentucky in the clear.
Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney missed a year of eligibility and will miss the first game of the 2010-11 season because of improper benefits in high school. Those benefits were discovered before Sidney played a game for the Bulldogs. The Bledsoe case differs -- if the NCAA determines he was in violation, he won't have any eligibility remaining and will have left school for the pros.
Two high-profile cases recently resulted in heavy sanctions, but both happened while the player was already enrolled in college.
Two years ago, Memphis' entire season was vacated after the NCAA voided Derrick Rose's test score and also said the guard had received an extra benefit when his brother, Reggie, flew on the team charter but failed to reimburse the university for the expense.
More recently, USC penalized itself by forfeiting victories and money, forgoing postseason play and curtailing recruiting, for improper benefits provided to O.J. Mayo.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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