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Bledsoe’s Grades Drawing More Scrutiny, But Calipari Maintains Plausible Deniability

The probe into Eric Bledsoe’s high school transcript is becoming more and more worrisome for Kentucky basketball fans.  And more and more interesting to Pete Thamel of The New York Times.

UK fans believe Thamel is on a one-man crusade to bring down John Calipari and the Wildcat basketball program.  More likely, The New York Times knows that coverage of the #1 basketball program in America will draw readers.  And if Thamel finds real dirt in Lexington, then he’s only doing his job.

So what’s he writing now?  Well, let’s start with some background. 

Bledsoe, the former UK one-and-doner, was initially cleared by the NCAA to play college basketball.  He went on to become a key member of the Cats’ 35-3 Elite Eight squad last year before being taken in the first round of this year’s NBA draft.

But rumors arose this offseason that his grades might have been tweaked during high school.  The folks in Birmingham have dug into the issue and found something interesting:

Bledsoe’s high school transcript says that he made an A in an Algebra 3 course.  The A cleared him academically… it was that close.  A C, for example, would not have gained him his college eligibility.

But a C is actually what he got in that Algebra 3 night course according to one grade report from the class.  The teacher of that class claims that there were actually two grade reports and the one with the C was inaccurate.

Enter Thamel.  He pointed out yesterday that Bledsoe, “who had a history of getting low grades, aced Algebra III before taking Algebra II.”  Credit Thamel for picking that up from The Birmingham News’ report.

So why/how was Bledsoe allowed to take Algebra 3 before taking Algebra 2?  “I’m going to my grave with that,” said his former high school principal.  Yeah, that sounds on the up-and-up.

According to Thamel: “Three independent compliance officers, who were granted anonymity because of privacy laws surround discussions of students’ grades, said in interviews on Tuesday that under NCAA rules, the organization could vacate Kentucky’s 2009-2001 season, in which they reached the Round of 8.”

Before rival fans start cheering, Thamel also noted: “One of the compliance officers was skeptical that Kentucky would have to vacate last season’s record because there was enough mitigating factors, including Bledsoe’s passing through the NCAA Clearinghouse, for Kentucky to argue they followed proper protocol.”

As I’ve stated before, I see the logic in that argument.  But as we’ve also noted on this site, that argument didn’t pass muster when Memphis used it in its Derrick Rose/SAT case.

Thamel wraps up thusly:

“Calipari is at a premier program, but the smoke from UMass and Memphis has followed him.  (Lee) Todd, the president who wanted Kentucky’s titles to stick, stepped down last week. 

“As questions continue to arise in Lexington, a new president has to decide whether having a successful program adds up to accepting recruits who ace Algebra 3 before taking Algebra 2.”

But here’s the rub — Calipari most likely didn’t comb through Bledsoe’s high school transcript personally.  And plausible deniability has always been the key to Calipari’s clean record.

“Marcus Camby had an agent?  I didn’t know that.”

“Derrick Rose had someone else take his SAT?  I didn’t know that.”

“Eric Bledsoe got some help with his grades?  I didn’t know that.”

Calipari knows how to keep himself clear of dirt.  I mean it’s not as if UK’s coach looked at a photo taken inside his own house and told the NCAA that he couldn’t recognize where the photo was taken.  There’s some honest-to-goodness gray area in all of Calipari’s defenses.

Now, should he have noticed Camby’s jewelry and car?  Yes.  And he surely knew that Rose and Bledsoe went from close-calls all the way to clear passers (of tests and classes).  On a similar note, he knew that many teams — including prep schools — were passing on Enes Kanter because it appeared that he was a professional player in Turkey.

History shows that Calipari rolls the dice, keeps himself at a distance from controversy, and when the breaks go his way… he’s a big winner.  When the breaks go against him — as they have twice before — his school is the big loser, not him.

If the NCAA finds that Bledsoe’s grades were suspect and that UK’s season needs to be wiped clean from the record books, rest assured that Calipari will have enough plausible deniability to safely escape any backlash. 

His name will remain clean.  “How is he supposed to catch grade issues that the NCAA didn’t catch?”

Nevermind the fact that he always seems to sign players who are so covered in question marks that they could play The Riddler in a Batman film.  And nevermind that if the NCAA takes action, he will have had three different seasons erased at three different schools.

Maybe Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl should call Coach Cal for a few tips on that whole “plausible deniability” thing.




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