A story broke a few weeks ago that former University of Memphis basketball coach, John Calipari, and his former point guard, Derrick Rose, paid $100,000 each in a settlement to avoid a 2010 lawsuit initiated by a group of Memphis lawyers who were also disgruntled season ticket holders. This story is interesting for a variety of reasons. First of all, Calipari was not found responsible for any NCAA infractions related to Derrick Rose’s one and only season as a Memphis Tiger. Secondly, Rose played the entire 2007-2008 season because the university’s compliance department cleared him to play; he was retroactively ruled ineligible by the NCAA. Furthermore, he was a student-athlete while at Memphis. He was not making any money for playing basketball; he did receive a full scholarship, but the lawyers/ticket holders did not directly provide the funds for his scholarship. Lastly, these lawyers/ticket holders actually succeeded in obtaining a six-figure settlement based on a lawsuit in which they would have claimed Calipari, Rose, and the university’s athletic director diminished the value of their season tickets by steering a team that was committing major NCAA violations.
While many college basketball fans and observers think Calipari engages in some unscrupulous activities related to recruiting, he has never personally been sanctioned by the NCAA. As he left the University of Massachusetts, the program was hit with major violations surrounding extra benefits accepted by Marcus Camby. Calipari pleaded ignorance and no evidence proved otherwise. Years later, as he left the University of Memphis to accept the head coaching job at the University of Kentucky – perhaps the premiere position in college basketball – major infractions surfaced at Memphis. Again, the major infractions were related to a star player – Derrick Rose in this instance.
The primary violation committed at Memphis was that Rose participated while he was ineligible for the only season he played. He did not have the requisite standardized test score to qualify. University of Memphis compliance officials, and certainly Calipari and his staff, were aware that Rose was at risk of not being an academic qualifier. Rose did not achieve a sufficient score during three attempts at the ACT in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Eventually, Rose switched paths and took the SAT in Detroit, Michigan; this time, he achieved a sufficient test score. The NCAA Eligibility Center certified Rose as an academic qualifier based on his core course GPA and sufficiently high SAT score.
The NCAA uses a sliding scale for a prospective student-athlete’s (PSA) “core course” GPA and correlating standardized test score. Each PSA must at least pass the following core courses: four English courses, three math courses (at a level equal or higher than Algebra I), two natural science courses, two social science courses, one additional English/math/natural science course, and four elective courses that can include any of the aforementioned subjects, philosophy, non-doctrinal religion or foreign language. The minimum core course GPA is 2.0/4.0. The correlating standardized test score for a PSA with a 2.0 core course GPA is either 1010 on the SAT or an 86 sum ACT. As the core course GPA slides up the scale, the requisite SAT or sum ACT score slides down the scale. For example, a PSA with a core course GPA of 3.55 or higher only needs to achieve a score of 400 on the SAT or a 37 sum ACT score to qualify academically.
After Rose achieved a sufficient SAT score that correlated with his core course GPA, and the Eligibility Center certified him as an academic qualifier, he enrolled at the University of Memphis. In October 2007, allegations of improprieties related to Rose’s SAT exam surfaced. As mentioned previously, Rose was from Chicago, yet he took the SAT in Detroit for some reason. Chicago Public Schools officials investigated Rose’s SAT score from Detroit and raised the question of whether or not Rose had another individual fraudulently take the test for him. The officials notified the University of Memphis athletic department, as well as ETS – the SAT testing security agency – of their concern.
The University of Memphis athletics compliance department interviewed Rose in November 2007. According to the NCAA public infractions report, the Memphis compliance department could not “substantiate the allegations of academic improprieties… and cleared him to compete during the 2007-2008 season.”
The ETS began its own investigation and eventually wrote a letter to Rose in March 2008, requesting information to prove that he personally took the SAT in Detroit. Rose never responded so the ETS sent a follow-up letter in April 2008; Rose did not respond this time either. Therefore, in May 2008 the ETS canceled Rose’s SAT score from the previous year. The NCAA Eligibility Center was notified and the NCAA retroactively ruled that Rose was ineligible for competition during the 2007-2008 season. By this time, Rose had left the University of Memphis in order to prepare for the NBA draft. He never cooperated with NCAA enforcement staff as his former school was investigated for major violations.
Calipari had also left Memphis by the time Rose’s SAT score had been canceled and the University of Memphis had been charged with major violations. Some people suspect that Calipari smelled the forthcoming danger and left Memphis for greener pastures. Still, it is important to stress that Calipari was not implicated in any wrongdoing in Rose’s enrollment process or other violations by the Memphis basketball program at large.
In addition to Rose’s questionable SAT exam – which ETS forensic handwriting investigators determined was probably not taken by Rose, based on the cursive statement and signature – the Memphis basketball team also was charged with providing impermissible benefits to Rose’s brother. During the 2007-2008 year, Rose’s brother often traveled on the team flight to away games and stayed at the same hotel. Other boosters and school officials did the same thing, but each was supposed to pay for their transportation and accommodations separately from the coaches and team roster. The NCAA determined that Rose’s brother paid for himself on several of these road trips, but was never charged by the athletics business office for a few trips. The University of Memphis’ compliance department was charged with a failure to monitor because they did not check the athletics business office’s records and team travel manifests. Overall, Rose’s brother received approximately $1,700 in impermissible benefits. Rose would have been ineligible for participation by December 14, 2007 due to his brother’s receipt of impermissible benefits had he not been ruled ineligible for the entire season due to the SAT cancellation. Calipari was not held responsible, nor should he be, for Rose’s brother’s receipt of impermissible benefits.
The NCAA vacated all records from the University of Memphis men’s basketball team’s 2007-2008 season, which included an appearance in the National Championship game. Here is where this story gets mind-boggling. A group of Memphis lawyers, who were also season ticket holders, came together out of discontent relating to the violations committed by the men’s basketball program. These lawyers began the process of a civil suit against Calipari, Rose, and the University of Memphis’ former athletic director to recover damages for a diminished value in their season tickets. They alleged that they bought tickets to the 2007-2008 season under false pretenses and that the value of tickets they purchased for future seasons is diminished due to NCAA sanctions. The group of lawyers sought at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, which they would split amongst themselves and other season ticket holders that they represented.
Rather than being dragged through legal proceedings, Calipari and Rose each settled for $100,000 with the group of lawyers. Calipari also agreed to donate his bonus for reaching the Final Four – approximately $232,000 – to the university’s general scholarship fund over a period of four years. The former athletic director also agreed to donate his bonus to the university’s general scholarship fund, and the settlement indicates that Rose will consider making a sizable donation to the scholarship fund within the next five years.
While it is understandable that Calipari and Rose would want to be rid of any potential legal battles quickly, it is surprising that they each would pay such a large sum to a group of disgruntled fans. Certainly Calipari and Rose can each afford $100,000, but agreeing to pay season ticket holders for a decrease in the value of their tickets, after they already attended and enjoyed the games is baffling. Sure, the NCAA’s record books say the games never took place. In reality, though, this group of lawyers had the pleasure of watching a future NBA Most Valuable Player participate in roughly 20 home games, and possibly some road games or tournament games. Furthermore, they sought monetary damages from Calipari, who was not accused of any wrongdoing, and Rose, who was a student-athlete at the time. It is practically an admission of cheating to settle this lawsuit. Both Calipari and Rose deny that they did anything wrong, though, so it is unbelievable that they did not fight these lawyers a little harder.
Clearly, the University of Memphis’ men’s basketball team committed serious violations in 2007-2008. Rose played while he was ineligible – due to several transgressions – and the university’s athletics compliance department failed to monitor the program. Fans were elated at the success of the team during the season. Then they were wildly disappointed when Calipari and Rose bolted, and the NCAA levied penalties against the university. Subsequently, a group of lawyers settled this seemingly frivolous lawsuit against Calipari and Rose for several hundred thousand dollars. This is an unprecedented occurrence. The U.S. is a land of “copycats” so it will be interesting to see if season ticket holders at other universities hit with NCAA penalties attempt similar proceedings. It will be even more interesting to see if other rich coaches and players cut huge checks to make everything go away or if someone fights a future lawsuit.