CTSportsLaw Inbox: Why is Memphis Responsible for Derrick Rose’s Alleged Cheating?

Memphis Connecticut Sports Law reader Steve Lackner posted an interesting comment last week on the Derrick Rose situation.  Here are Steve’s comments followed by my responses.

With the recent incident involving Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Memphis University, how can the University be held liable / responsible for him cheating on a high school entrance exam?

Even absent specific information that university officials were involved with wrongdoing, the NCAA has a broad enforcement mechanism – a finding of a “lack of institutional control.”  An institutional control inquiry looks at whether a university has proper policies, procedures and monitoring practices in place.

The university’s responsibility turns on whether it knew or should have known about the violations.  Even if the university had its head in the sand, it could still be found to lack institutional control.   If the NCAA were to find that Memphis did not have, nor should have had, any knowledge of the problems with Rose’s test scores, the university technically would not be held responsible.  But since Rose is in the NBA, and removed from the NCAA’s jurisdiction, he cannot effectively be punished. 

And, if they are caught cheating, shouldn’t there be a contract written between the school and athlete that the student admits to all grades / tests taken before entering that institution?

In light of the O.J. Mayo case, corruption in college basketball has been a hot topic.  At last month’s Sports Lawyers Conference, one attendee commented that the only way to clean up the sport was to hold the players responsible for their actions.  Players like Mayo for instance, can  be confident that even if they accept improper benefits, they’re unlikely to be exposed until they have left school and are in the NBA.

NCAABballThat said, a contract concerning the validity of a student-athlete’s grades is unlikely to improve the situation.  First, scholarships are year-to-year propositions.  A university can already choose not to renew a scholarship contract if a student-athlete fails to adhere to a university’s honor code or on other grounds.  Second, there is the problem of damages.  A breach of contract action requires the formation of a contract, breach of that contract, and damages.  Could Memphis prove it was damaged by having Rose play on a team that made it to the final game of the NCAA Tournament?  Although the public relations fallout has certainly not helped Memphis, consider the money the university generated during last year’s NCAA tournament with Rose running the team.  That revenue would provide an excellent legal defense to a claim that a university such as Memphis was damaged by the participatation of an ineligible player.  Third, consider the effect on recruiting.  Recruits might be hesitant to attend a university with a history of suing its players.

Part of the solution to college basketball’s corruption problem may include imparting some responsibility to student-athletes to play by the rules.  However, the solution may best be left to a framework outside of the law.

Got a sports law question?  If so, please post a comment or send me an email.  With your help, I’d like to make the CTSportsLaw Inbox a regular feature.

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