Memphis, Tenn. Memphis has lost every one of the 38 victories it piled up in a basketball season that ended with John Calipari’s Tigers just missing out on a national title.
The NCAA stripped Memphis of all its wins from 2007-08 Thursday, saying the Tigers used an ineligible player who is believed to be NBA star Derrick Rose.
The university isn’t accepting the punishment, not yet.
Memphis president Shirley Raines said shortly after the NCAA’s announcement that the school is appealing what she called an unfair penalty.
“We know the rules,” Raines said. “We did our due diligence. We did everything we could to determine the student-athlete was eligible and that the rules were being followed.”
The NCAA announcement came 16 months after the Tigers lost the national championship to Kansas University in overtime at the end of the 2007-08 season. It marks the second time both Memphis and coach John Calipari had to vacate Final Four seasons. The Tigers were stripped of their 1985 appearance and Calipari’s Massachusetts team lost its 1996 berth.
Now the basketball coach at Kentucky, Calipari said in a statement he was “very disappointed and disheartened by the NCAA’s findings” and that he would not comment again until Memphis’ appeal is concluded. Calipari said he’s looking forward to coaching Kentucky this fall where officials are fully supporting him despite the Memphis scandal.
“I’m not worried about it because they have never said Coach Cal did anything wrong at all,” said Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, who appeared with Calipari at the Kentucky State Fair on Thursday before the NCAA announcement. “I think he’s a very upstanding guy. I think that’s his reputation and I think that reputation will be with him here. I really don’t foresee any problems.”
Memphis finished 38-2 in 2007-08, setting the NCAA record for wins in a season.
The NCAA report did not identify the ineligible player by name, though descriptions of the athlete involved lead to the conclusion it could only be Rose. He was the only player who played just that season at Memphis — a fact noted by the governing body of college sports. Rose went on to be selected by the Chicago Bulls as the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft and later won the NBA rookie of the year award.
The player was accused of having another person take his SAT exam in Detroit so he would be eligible as a freshman after failing the ACT three times in Chicago.
Memphis argued that the university did not have enough information to substantiate the allegations in November 2007 and cleared him to play. Memphis officials defended their investigation Thursday and said four people interviewed the player, with neither Calipari nor athletic director R.C. Johnson involved.
“That person responded that he took the test, and we believed him,” university legal counsel Sheri Lipman said.
However, the SAT officials later conducted their own investigation and notified the player, the university and the NCAA’s eligibility center that they were canceling his test in May 2008.
The agency said it sent letters to the player in March and April 2008; the second letter was sent three days after Rose and the Tigers lost to the Jayhawks. The player did not respond to either letter.
The infractions committee said it struck hard with its penalties because the ineligible player was used the entire season. Rose played in all 40 games, starting 39.
In a statement released by his attorney Thursday, Rose said “it is satisfying to see that the NCAA could find no wrongdoing on my part in their ruling.
“I think it is important for people to understand that I complied with everything that was asked of me while at the university, including my full participation in the university’s investigation of this issue, and was ultimately cleared to play in the entire 2007-08 season by the NCAA clearinghouse and the university.”
In addition to the lost season, Memphis also must return the money it received from the NCAA tournament to Conference USA and will be prevented from receiving future shares doled out in the conference’s revenue-sharing program — a total loss estimated at $530,000 on top of the $85,000 already paid by the school. If Memphis loses its appeal, Johnson said approximately $300,000 in bonus money Calipari earned from that season would be paid back.
The NCAA said the committee pressed Memphis officials during a hearing on the matter about why steps weren’t taken in November 2007 to bench the ineligible player and avoid problems.
Part of Memphis’ appeal will be the role, and possible flaws, in the NCAA clearinghouse. Officials declined to be specific but noted the eligibility center cleared the student twice — before being admitted and after the university pointed out a grade change in high school.
The committee also said the player’s brother received free transportation on the team’s charter plane and hotel lodging that season. Investigators said the total cost would have come to $1,713.85. Such an arrangement is considered an impermissible extra benefit.
“Neither the travel coordinator nor the business director had an explanation as to how the brother was permitted to board without having paid for the two flights,” the NCAA report said.
Memphis officials called those honest mistakes that have been fixed.
The school’s women’s golf team also received three years probation and lost a scholarship for violations in its program.