November 20, 2012 by shivusharma
Last night, the UCLA Bruins suffered a disappointing loss at the hands of the Georgetown Hoyas. To be honest, I did not expect them to win. This was UCLA’s first test against a legit opponent. They are a young team with incredible potential, so it will take them some time to build chemistry and find their identity. Shabazz had a decent stat line (15 points on 5 for 10 shooting), but he clearly looked rusty. It will take him and the other freshman some time to get their feet wet; much like it did for Kentucky last year.
What I was happier to see was the debut Shabazz Muhammad, after he was cleared by the NCAA. The fact that he was under investigation in the first place was completely bogus to begin with. Here are the facts of the matter:
1) The NCAA was investigating Shabazz because he took “impermissible benefits” to go on unofficial recruiting visits to UNC and Duke. These benefits were given to him by a family friend, Financial Adviser Ben Lincoln, and paid for Shabazz’s travel and lodging expenses.
2) It turned out that that the boyfriend of the NCAA Investigator looking into the matter was overheard talking about Shabazz’s case at an airport. Unlucky for this investigator, the person that happened to overhear her boyfriend was a lawyer. The lawyer quickly contacted Shabazz’s camp via email and notified them of what she knew. In her account of the incident, the boyfriend intimated that the NCAA had already made up their mind about Shabazz’s eligibility and were going to make sure he didn’t play this season.
3) Here is the interesting part. According to an L.A. Times article by Baxter Holmes, “The flight was only eight days after NCAA investigators say they first requested documents from Muhammad‘s family. The first installment of what was thousands of pages of documentation was not delivered until Sept. 25, and Muhammad’s parents, Ron Holmes and Faye Muhammad, were not formally interviewed until Nov. 1 and 2.” This flight where the boyfriend was overheard, telling someone else that Shabazz’s case had already been decided, occurred on August 7th. That was over a month before any documents were sent to the investigator. Shady business if you ask me.
It’s no secret that the NCAA tracks high-profile players, well-before they enter the college ranks. What bothers me is the injustice that the NCAA was looking to exact upon this kid. The NCAA suffers from corruption and inconsistency in the way they rule on eligibility issues. ESPN’s Dana O’Neil highlights these inconsistencies beautifully in this piece.
To think that they had it in for Shabazz before ever examining the facts of the case is troubling. NCAA basketball suffered when high
school prospects could go straight to the NBA. They were lucky that David Stern mandated a one-year in school rule. These one-and-done players tend to be the superstars of college basketball, and in a sport driven by star power, how can you look to unjustly punish your prime attractions? I’m not saying that punishments are unwarranted in these cases, but at least consider all the facts before you make a decision. Shabazz really didn’t need college basketball’s media resources or UCLA’s reputation to boost his draft stock. He was already regarded as at top-3 selection in the NBA Draft if he sat out the whole year. Some scouts were even ready to declare him the number-one overall player. The NCAA could only lose by suspending him without cause. Whether he played or not, Shabazz was going to make millions at the next level.
Fortunately for all of us, this information came to light and Shabazz was reinstated. He was “suspended” for three games (games that UCLA already played while he was under investigation) and ordered to repay $1600 in benefits that he took from his family friend. Way to save face, NCAA! Good job by you!
The NCAA’s revenue is heavily driven by their athletes. If they continue to regulate their athletes in this manner, don’t be surprised if we see an exodus of top-tier talent from the college ranks. Especially for these top-5 or top-10 prospects, playing college basketball isn’t going to help them as much as they would help the collegiate sport. It would behoove the NCAA to enforce their rules more uniformly, conduct themselves with fairness in mind, and act in a manner that reflected a greater respect for the stars that are driving their business.