January 12, 2011

Dick Vitale Curbstomps NCAA Prez Into Response

In an interview with SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s Seth Davis this week, new NCAA President Mark Emmert couldn’t have been more forceful in supporting his organization’s decision to rule Kentucky basketball recruit Enes Kanter permanently ineligible to play basketball at UK.

Emmert to Davis:
“The vast majority of people in collegiate basketball knew that this was an issue with Enes Kanter. Kentucky knew it. Everybody who talked with him knew it. So I’m amazed that people are shocked by the fact that he is ineligible.”

If you have followed the NCAA over the years, you recognize the stunning, nearly unprecedented candor being displayed by a sitting NCAA President over a particular enforcement ruling. So with that in mind, it’s no surprise that Emmert’s candor was most likely far from a coincidence.

On November 23, 2009, Todd Dybas of the SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER reported that Kanter had verbally committed to the University of Washington. In a long post extolling the virtues of Kanter’s on-court game by Dybas, there was no mention of the possibility that Kanter may have been facing NCAA eligibility questions. And if there were, obviously Washington, UCLA and USC were not overly concerned, as all three schools were in the running for Kanter’s basketball services at the time. (Kentucky later entered the picture, obviously.)

Kanter eventually de-committed from Washington a year later, which led Huskies Coach Lorenzo Romar to say at the time:

“You develop relationship with kids, and in your mind you have a vision with how it’s going to work with them in this program and how you’re going to help this kid develop and how they’re going to help you. Then, when that changes, it’s disappointing.

“When you’re recruiting someone and they’ve never committed to you and they go elsewhere, then that’s a part of what we do. But if someone does say, ‘I’m picking you, I’m coming with you and we’re getting ready to do this together from here on out,’ and then if they were to change their mind, it’s very disappointing.”

So Romar was indisputably still on Kanter’s trail up until the Turkish recruit’s decision to de-commit from Washington.

Now back to Mark Emmert’s statement about Kanter to Seth Davis this week:

“The vast majority of people in collegiate basketball knew that this was an issue with Enes Kanter. Kentucky knew it. Everybody who talked with him knew it. So I’m amazed that people are shocked by the fact that he is ineligible.”

Who exactly was the President of the University of Washington when the Huskies received their verbal commitment from Kanter? (And subsequently Kanter’s “very disappointing” de-commit?)

Mark Emmert.

But even with that intersection of what some may view as mere coincidence, why was Emmert so heated in defending his NCAA’s decision to render Kanter’s ineligible?

Enter Dick Vitale.

Before SI.com published its piece detailing Emmert’s comments, Vitale Tweeted to Seth Davis last Friday:

Asked a very simple? Seth if Kanter went to Wash. I believe he would NOT be inligible 4 4 years -have super 2011!

That Tweet followed an on-camera rant by Vitale on ESPN-TV that posited the same theory.

Two days later, at the end of the Seth Davis SI piece that included Emmert’s comments about the NCAA’s ruling on Kanter, Davis confronted Emmert about Vitale’s “very serious allegation” that the NCAA deliberately ruled

Kanter ineligible because he had committed to Kentucky.

From Davis:

When I asked Emmert why Washington recruited Kanter, he told me that as university president he did not get involved with basketball recruiting and thus did not know his coach’s thinking.

Emmert quote to Davis on Vitale accusation:

“Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s ridiculous. By all accounts this is a very talented basketball player, but yet there were very few schools recruiting him. Why was that? Because everyone understood that there was a very large probability that he was not going to be deemed eligible. This has nothing to do with Kentucky or Coach Calipari. It has to do with a clear rule and a clear set of facts.”

In November, Emmert attempted to marginalize much of the media that was questioning his NCAA’s rulings:

The burden of proof is higher than what it is for somebody who’s writing in a blog,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said Friday while taping a TV show that will air Monday on the Big Ten Network.

“You can write in a blog that, ‘Gee, I think everyone knows that if there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ Well, that’s a great thing to say,” Emmert continued. “But we have a burden of proof to demonstrate what are the real facts before we take to an infractions committee … a recommendation that says, ‘We think this has happened.’”

Vitale’s accusation is, to date, the most serious made against the NCAA in how it doles out justice. To make matters worse, Vitale’s allegation was made on ESPN-TV and Twitter, in front on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of college hoops fans.

Now you know why Emmert chose this moment to step out and defend himself.

He had no choice.


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