There are plenty of pressing questions now, in the aftermath of Saturday’s revelation that a former AAU coach of Ben McLemore has alleged to have accepted $10,000 and free travel from a man seeking to connect McLemore with agents and financial advisers in Southern California.
The allegations, which were first reported by USA Today, came from Darius Cobb, a St. Louis-based AAU coach, who claims to have received two cash payments from Rodney Blackstock, the founder of a sports-mentoring organization in Greensboro, N.C.
In addition to revealing the sometimes seedy underbelly of grassroots basketball and agent culture, the story could have an impact on the Kansas basketball program. But how much?
Cobb’s assertions are an NCAA violation under Bylaw 220.127.116.11., which states that athletes — and their friends and relatives — are prohibited from accepting transportation or other benefits from agents, or those acting in that capacity. Cobb also alleged that a cousin of McLemore, Richard Boyd, received free travel to meet with representatives in California. And those benefits could have potentially compromised McLemore’s amateur status while at Kansas.
Cobb, however, has said that McLemore had no knowledge of the cash payments. And according to John Infante, an expert on NCAA compliance issues, there are other reasons this particular case could become a difficult landscape for NCAA investigators.
For one, McLemore has given up his remaining three years of eligibility and declared for the NBA Draft, meaning he is under no obligation to speak with the NCAA. The same goes for Cobb or Blackstock, who has, to this point, given no public rebuttal to the allegations.
In addition, the NCAA has a recent precedent for cases where a person close to an athlete worked to profit without the athlete’s knowledge. Infante, who previously worked in the Colorado State compliance office, wrote on the subject on Sunday for the “Bylaw Blog,” an online journal that deals with NCAA issues.
In November 2010, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was declared ineligible after the NCAA found evidence that his father had solicited money from Mississippi State during his recruitment. The NCAA, however, did not have evidence that Newton had knowledge of his father’s activity, and he was quickly reinstated.
The cases have their differences, of course, but this demonstrates how the NCAA once handled an eligibility issue when there was no evidence that the athlete knew about the violation.
In the aftermath of the Newton case, the NCAA adopted a bylaw that expanded the definition of an agent to any person that “Seeks to obtain any type of financial gain or benefit from securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment at an educational institution or from a student-athlete’s potential earnings as a professional athlete.”
Under this definition, Blackstock could certainly be viewed as agent, meaning that an NCAA rule was violated. And that, according to Infante, could also raise questions about Kansas’ culpability. Blackstock reportedly attended multiple KU games as McLemore’s guest on the student-athlete pass list, the standard way that athletes are able to hand out complimentary tickets. Should KU have better monitored the names and people on that list? The NCAA may soon be interested in finding out.
And yet, the NCAA, in a weakened state after some high-profile missteps in the Miami investigation, could be left in a precarious position. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger, in a released statement on Saturday, claimed KU did not know about the relationships between Blackstock, Cobb and the McLemore family. McLemore is headed off to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. And Cobb and Blackstock are not obligated to answer any questions from the NCAA.
Kansas has had a relatively clean record under coach Bill Self. The only brushes with the NCAA came when Darnell Jackson (2005) and Josh Selby (2010) each served nine-game suspensions for receiving impermissible benefits.
“Absent a major break in the case, there is unlikely to be a satisfactory outcome here,” Infante wrote. “Perhaps the NCAA will be unable to substantiate the allegations or will not go the additional step further that it refused to take in the Newton case. Or the NCAA will punish Kansas after the fact for a violation that neither the school nor the athlete ruled ineligible knew was occurring. Either way, this case is likely to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”