Thank you Derrick Rose and John Calipari. The University of Memphis 2007-2008 basketball season is officially the biggest loser.
On Monday the NCAA Division I Infractions Appeals Committee upheld its decision to penalize the university for allowing Rose to compete while he had a fraudulent SAT score and other major and secondary violations. The report comes out in the middle of the NCAA basketball tournament and Calipari's latest quest for a championship at Kentucky.
The three-member NCAA committee rejected the university's attempt to assert its deniability because Rose dodged the letter advising him that his score was suspect and likely to be invalidated.
The report has some minor details on that subject that were mentioned in general terms in earlier reports but most of it covers familiar ground about Rose's eligibility and his brother's free travel.
The Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT, sent Rose a letter on March 17, 2008, to his home address in Chicago. The letter stated, "We are writing to you because ETS's Office of Testing Integrity is concerned . . . that there appears to be substantial evidence your scores on the SAT Reasoning Test are invalid. As you acknowledged when you registered for this test, ETS has the right to review the validity of test scores and to cancel questionable scores when we believe there is substantial evidence that they are invalid."
The concerns were based on a comparison of the handwriting on Rose's answer sheet and on other documents that bear his name.
Rose says he took his own SAT test, but has never been clear on whether or not he took all of his tests, including the one in Detroit that got him in trouble. The university argued that it had no proof that Rose cheated and that Rose never received the letters, but the NCAA didn't buy it. Rose refused to give a handwriting sample or vindicate himself and the university despite several opportunities to do so.
"The institution received notice in October 2007 that the student athlete's ACT score was under question. The institution's response to, and investigation regarding, those questions, including its contacting Educational Testing Service regarding the student athlete's SAT score, demonstrate that the institution had reason to know of a serious problem regarding the student athlete's eligibility," the report says.
"GIven that the letters were mailed to the same address to which all other test-related correspondence had been mailed and the student athlete's mother advised him of the contents of earlier test-related correspondence received at that address, we find the argument unavailing."
"Clearly, this letter not only made the student athlete aware that his eligibility was in serious jeopardy, but that he would be declared ineligible if he did not respond to the letter. And, he in fact never responded to both the letter and later correspondence from ETS regarding the same subject matter," the NCAA says in the report.
The report says penalties will include return of the 2008 second-place trophy, vacating the team and Rose's individual records for 2007-2008 in all media guides and public records, removal of banners, and return of tournament revenues.
The university has not been contrite. On the contrary, Rose is prominently featured in the current basketball media guide on four of the first six pages touting the 38 wins in 2007-2008 and the 137 wins from 2005-2009.
Calipari is not named in the report, although he is certain to be questioned about it by reporters during the remainder of the NCAA Tournament where Kentucky is in the Sweet 16.
The university said in a statement Monday that it is "extremely disappointed by the decision of the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee. The University strongly disagrees with the result, but understands that the decision is final."
U of M says clarification is needed on these points:
* The Educational Testing Service should notify institutions of any ongoing investigations involving student-athletes. U of M learned that Rose was under investigation by Illinois school officials in October of 2007 but "thought the issue was put to rest," and didn't find out otherwise until May of 2008, according to its 2009 response to the NCAA. The NCAA says U of M contacted ETS about Rose's score in 2007 and was therefore aware that it was suspect. And it puts the burden on Rose, who ignored his mail from ETS and thereby jeopardized himself and the university.
* The NCAA Eligibility Center reviews records and questions the completion of coursework on a regular basis. The Center should also provide guidance and ensure communication between all of the relevant parties regarding test scores. U of M has pushed the idea that Rose was "cleared twice" by the eligibility center.
“Without an open dialogue about ongoing issues, the University of Memphis and other NCAA members have less confidence in the abilities of the NCAA and ETS to work productively on behalf of student-athletes and the universities they represent,” said U of M President Shirley Raines. “This issue requires immediate attention by both organizations.”
Memphis Athletic Director R. C. Johnson said, “I am extremely disappointed with the findings. However, the ruling has been handed down, and we must move forward. The future of Tiger athletics is, indeed, very bright.”
In an interview, university counsel Sheri Lipman said that making a passing score on the fourth attempt on a college entrance exam is not necessarily suspicious.
"From what I have seen, kids have lots of struggles with standardized tests. It's not unusual to try multiple times and get a little better each time. That on its face is not suspect."
Because of confidentiality issues, Lipman still refers to the case of "the student athlete" without using a name. University officials will not say what scores "the student athlete" made on each attempt, although a big discrepancy could indicate cheating.
"We investigated the SAT because that was the test that the student athlete was admitted on," she said. "We knew all the circumstances of the taking of the test" in Detroit and asked about them in the session in November of 2007.
"The answers provided by the student athlete were believed by everyone in the room," she said.