The eligibility saga of Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo has stretched on for more than six months and cost the university close to “six figures” in institutional investment, according to a document obtained by The Star on Saturday.
The letter — sent from the university to the NCAA on Nov. 10, and signed by athletic director Sheahon Zenger — outlines a list of 19 concerns that the school found with the NCAA’s handling of Diallo’s initial-eligibility case. The existence of the letter became known on Saturday night, when Kansas coach Bill Self went public with a critique of the NCAA’s conduct and cooperation in the case. The Star obtained a copy of the letter from a third-party source, and its contents shed light on a case that has been subject to much media attention and little concrete information.
The letter details a case that includes Diallo, Kansas’ top recruit in the 2015 class, and the NCAA’s ongoing evaluation of Our Savior New American, the private school in Centereach, N.Y., where Diallo attended for 3 1/2 years. In the letter, Zenger calls the NCAA’s conduct in the case “egregious” and calls for Diallo to be ruled eligible immediately.
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In the second paragraph of the six-page letter, addressed to Oliver Luck, the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs, Zenger offers an initial critique of the NCAA’s process, saying that KU has spent close to six figures while dealing with the case.
“I wholeheartedly support such exorbitant expenditures because we have uncovered serious and legitimate misrepresentation attributed to the NCAA process, unfounded verbal statements, and inadequate professional standards,” the letter states. “All of this is impacting Cheick unjustly and standing in your way of making him immediately eligible.”
The letter expresses concerns about the “lack of partnership” between the University of Kansas and the NCAA, concerns that were echoed by Self in public comments on Saturday. Among the list of complaints: According to KU, Self and other assistant coaches visited Diallo’s high school, Our Savior New American, on “at least six occasions”. In addition, KU states that athletic department compliance staff met with Our Savior New American officials three times to discuss Diallo and his initial eligibility. According to the letter, “The NCAA has never set foot on OSNAS property,” despite requests from Kansas officials to do so.
The letter also expressed concerns about the NCAA’s communication during the case. In one passage, KU alleges that Diallo, who began attending the school during his freshman year, after coming to the United States from his home country of Mali, “was completely unaware that questions had been raised about the legitimacy of the high school work until late spring of his senior year …”
According to the letter, the NCAA Eligibility Center’s first communication to Diallo regarding his coursework came on Jan. 17, 2014. At that time, according to the letter, the NCAA issued a statement that “additional core course information may be requested.”
The letter also clarified concerns expressed earlier Saturday by Self, including the dearth of correspondence between the school and the NCAA during the case. According to the letter, the NCAA told the university on Sept. 2, 2015, that it would provide the school with “general information regarding any concerns identified upon completion of the review (of the course work).”
“That did not happen,” the letter stated.
The school, according to the letter, did not receive “any feedback regarding concerns with Cheick’s course work until” school officials visited NCAA headquarters on Nov. 5.
The letter also stated concerns that the NCAA had “singled out” Diallo during the process, saying that two of Diallo’s classmates had gained immediate eligibility to compete through the waiver process.
The 19th and final section of the letter sheds light on the NCAA’s investigation into possible amateurism issues regarding Diallo and his guardian, Tidiane Drame, a Mali-American who helped bring Diallo to the United States. The Star previously reported that the NCAA had labeled Drame as an “agent,” according to NCAA definitions of the term. According to the letter, KU alleged that the “NCAA Amateurism staff determined that Tidiane Drame … was an agent based on Internet searches and Facebook.”
In addition, the letter states that Drame has never been formally interviewed by thee NCAA and that KU officials were not consulted before the determination. The letter also states that “the Amateurism staff is taking the unreasonable stance that the paperwork for the guardianship is not legitimate, despite Cheick stating on the record that Drame is his guardian.”
In the final portion of the letter, Zenger re-states that Diallo “should be eligible immediately” and that the NCAA “failed both to put forth an open-minded best effort for a student athlete and to uncover factors supporting eligibility.”
“In summary,” Zenger writes, “and considering all sobering examples, I am grossly concerned, not just because of the lack of partnership, communication, undue influence, and other optics which are all egregious. I am concerned also because the role NCAA staff has played during his misfit process has been that of investigator, not collaborator. There is still no closure for Cheick Diallo, a young man who deserves our very best efforts.”