Last night the college sports world was set ablaze by this article in the LA Times. The article reports a letter that was received from an attorney who claims she overheard a conversation involving the boyfriend of an NCAA investigator discussing the Shabazz Muhammad case in August and who, based on what he had heard from his girlfriend, was sure Muhammad would be ruled ineligible for at least this season.
The conclusion that was reached by Muhammad’s attorneys, Baxter Holmes who wrote the article, and most of the reaction to the article was that this is some sort of smoking gun about NCAA enforcement. There are three major problems with that conclusion.
First, it requires us to assume a lot of backstory. We have to assume that the NCAA did not have any evidence yet. We also have to assume that whatever conclusion the boyfriend reached is the same conclusion that the NCAA investigator reached, i.e. that “We just got a bunch of evidence that Shabazz received benefits” did not morph into “I guarantee Shabazz will be ineligible.”
Second, we already know that the NCAA reached some conclusion about the Muhammad case almost sixth months before the conversation on the plane took place. In February 2012, the NCAA was already warning schools recruiting Muhammad that he would have eligibility issues. If any prejudgement happened, then one that causes the NCAA to actively interfere in the recruitment of a prospect is much worse than the opinion of a single NCAA staff member.
And third, we have to assume this prejudgment affected or will affect the case. That means the NCAA ignored exculpatory facts. But then why did UCLA agree to the facts? It would also mean that not just the enforcement staff but the NCAA committee currently reviewing UCLA’s appeal, the Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff and the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement all prejudged the case as well. And will hang onto that prejudgment despite the scrutiny now on them.
This letter is not the smoking gun. It is the grain of truth around which a conspiracy theory can be built.
Simply as a public relations exercise, the NCAA should gather all the information up, submit it to outside counsel or an arbitrator, and have them review it. As long as the Muhammad family and all involved third parties cooperate, Shabazz should be allowed to play while this review is pending.
If the review finds that exculpatory evidence was ignored or overlooked, or that the ruling on Shabazz is not supported by the evidence, he should be ruled eligible. I doubt the NCAA will do that, and if they did, I doubt the result comes up different.