Derrick Rose Woes Highlights Hoops' Problems

The University of Memphis men's basketball team won a record 38 games and made it all the way to the championship contest in 2008. Now, that triumphant run may be in jeopardy. The NCAA alleges the star of that team, guard Derrick Rose, didn't take his own SAT to get into Memphis. The case points out the special problems confronting men's basketball.

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Two years ago, the men's basketball team at the University of Memphis had a thrilling season. The Tigers won a record 38 games. They made it all the way to the NCAA championship game.

Well, now those results may be vacated if allegations prove true that the key player was ineligible.

The Memphis case may seem like just another college athletic scandal, but as NPR's Tom Goldman reports, there are unique problems confronting men's collegiate basketball.

TOM GOLDMAN: The NCAA alleges a Memphis player on the 2007-2008 team didn't take his own SAT in high school, that's the standardized test that helped him get into Memphis. The allegations made public last week have names blacked out, but it appears the player in question is Derrick Rose. He's a point guard who's been thrilling basketball fans from his high school days.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible) has to call a time out because Derrick Rose has brought the entire crowd at the United Center to their feet.

Unidentified Man #2: Welcome to the Derrick Rose show.

GOLDMAN: To last month, in his first NBA playoff appearance.

(Soundbite of basketball game)

Unidentified Man #3: I've never seen a guy this calm, cool and collected in a ball game like this. This is a tremendous performance from Derrick Rose.

GOLDMAN: In the week since Rose was implicated in the SAT scandal, he had said through various channels that in fact, he took his own SAT. Less than a month earlier, allegations against another basketball prodigy emerged.

Investigators want to know if current NBA star O.J. Mayo was involved with improper payments during his short association with the University of Southern California. Like Rose, Mayo went to college one year before jumping to the NBA, the so-called one-and-done player, and the two are giving college sports' watchdogs new reasons to worry.

Dr. GERALD TURNER (Co-chairman, Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics): The thorniest unsolved issue right now is basketball.

GOLDMAN: Dr. Gerald Turner, co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, says the pre-college basketball environment continues to create many problems: summer tournaments, travel - sometimes, shady characters who replace the high school coach as the main contact with the player.

It's an ever-changing environment, and its harshest critics say it requires changing some basic rules, like the one that says basketball players have to wait a year after high school before entering the NBA. This forces many of the best players to college reluctantly, says Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. He was on a recent ESPN telecast.

(Soundbite of TV program)

Mr. GEOFF CALKINS (Columnist, Memphis Commercial Appeal): You have kids who are worth $40 million in high school who are going into this world of forced amateurism under which only coaches get paid, and so money will find a way to the players or the people around the players.

GOLDMAN: Not only a world of forced amateurism, but according to college sports critic Murray Sperber, for the top players, it's often a world of forced academics as well.

Mr. MURRAY SPERBER (Sports Critic): You know, you're saying to these kids we want you to perform athletically at the highest level you've ever performed, and by the way, we also want you to perform intellectually at the highest level you've ever performed. It's called higher education. And the NCAA has never been able to square this circle.

GOLDMAN: The NCAA has long believed in the concept of the student athlete, so it's not likely to change the basic structure, like cleaving sports and academics, for instance, by professionalizing the top men's basketball and football programs.

Saturday, the NCAA's Committee on Infractions holds a hearing on the University of Memphis case. The university says its internal investigation found no wrongdoing, but just the fact that the committee is hearing the case means the NCAA thinks the allegations have merit.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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