The news that former Duke men’s basketball player Lance Thomas is being sued over not paying for almost $100,000 of jewelry he purchased as a senior in college looks like another Reggie Bush-type case. Most of the initial reaction has focused on how Thomas could afford the $30,000 down payment he made on the jewelry, which is beyond the means of all but the wealthiest college students.
The Challenge is Thomas is No Longer an NCAA Athlete
That would be difficult to prove because, like Reggie Bush, Thomas is no longer a student-athlete. As a result, he is no longer under the NCAA’s thumb. With no subpoena power, the odds of getting anything concrete on where that $30,000 came from would be highly unlikely. Even the current lawsuit would not be as much help to the NCAA as the jeweler did not provide the $30,000 like Lloyd Lake and Michael Michaels provided benefits to Bush.
But as Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports points out, the $30,000 is not the only question. Also under scrutiny will be the almost $60,000 loan which covered the balance of the cost of the jewelry. Loans to a student-athlete based on his or her potential future earnings as a pro athlete are not allowed by the NCAA, except to pay for disability insurance on those future earnings. Even though Thomas was halfway through his final year of college basketball, receiving a loan for jewelry based on his ability to pay it back as a professional athlete would render him ineligible.
That makes the case substantially easier to prove for the NCAA. They now have a party who provided a potentially impermissible benefit (the jeweler) who because of the lawsuit may be motivated to talk to the NCAA. If the NCAA gets enough information, Thomas will be forced to either agree to talk to the NCAA or allow the jeweler’s side of the story to stand. It is much more likely now the NCAA will find evidence that Thomas received an impermissible benefit or failing that, at least get enough leverage to talk to Thomas and get his side of the story.
NCAA Stuck Investigating Events that Happened Years Ago
After the resurfacing of benefits provided to Joe McKnight and Davon Jefferson, this looks like another step back for the NCAA, who are once again investigating allegations committed years ago involving individuals who are no longer involved with college athletics. But at least in the case of Lance Thomas, there is a better chance of the NCAA getting an opportunity to talk to him. And given the quick rush to judgment over selective discipline, the NCAA now has to continue chasing all these leads, even if they turn into dead ends.