- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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That's what a private investigator named Michael L. Buckner, who runs background checks on athletes, told the Lexington Herald-Leader's Jerry Tipton today regarding the Eric Bledsoe fracas that broke out Friday night:
"Coaches at other schools know there [are problems with Bledsoe's background]," he said. "Then I would assume Kentucky knew or should have known."
Coach John Calipari's experience at Memphis, specifically the NCAA ruling he played an ineligible player, Derrick Rose, in the 2007-08 season, should have put UK on heightened alert, Buckner said. "That just raises the stakes," Buckner said. "'We need to do everything right. We need to dot i's, cross t's because we know people are going to look at the recruiting class in Calipari's first year, and subsequent years.'"
Neither the NCAA nor many individual schools do a thorough job of checking the background of prospective athletes, Buckner said. Plus, schools that make winning a top priority have a vested interest not to look too closely into a player's background, he acknowledged.
"Sometimes, I think, some schools may take the stance, 'We're just going to follow the rules as they dictate and only do what we're required to do,' which is to submit information to the Eligibility Center," said Buckner, who suggested that as many as 60 percent of schools do bare-minimum background checks.
This raises a couple of interesting points. The first is that the NCAA itself isn't all that good at checking the backgrounds of the athletes it clears for eligibility. Why? Volume: The NCAA Clearinghouse estimates that it clears around 19,000 athletes a year. Nineteen-thousand! That is a ton of athletes. Then again, that's maybe double the size of any given Division I school's incoming freshman class, so it might be fair to argue that the NCAA should be doing a better job managing that volume. But still, those are a lot of backgrounds to check. Much as in college admissions -- you remember the kids on your dorm floor freshman year who clearly had no business being at an institute of higher learning; they sure were fun for a semester, though -- some with questionable eligibility are going to slip through the cracks.
Second, this means individual institutions have to be doubly careful when they're clearing athletes. The NCAA might clear the player, but that doesn't mean the player is cleared forever. Maybe that player plays a season and then has Derrick Rose-esque problems in his past, problems the school probably should have vetted before the player ever stepped on the court. By then, though, it's too late. The only step left is NCAA infractions.
Third, this means Kentucky has to be really, really, really careful when it clears its athletes. People are going to pay more attention to Kentucky's recruiting classes with John Calipari at the helm. You could argue that this is fair, given the success of Calipari's recruiting efforts at Kentucky and the Rose-related infractions that followed his departure from Memphis. You could also argue that it's unfair, given that plenty of programs have the same problems, and, hey, why aren't people writing about them as much?
But fair or not, that's just how it works. This is the world Kentucky basketball currently exists in, and it's largely a world of its own making. When a player is deemed to have too many red flags, it will be in Kentucky's best interest to leave that player be. NCAA clearance doesn't really mean clearance. Apparently, it's up to the Wildcats -- and everyone else -- to keep themselves out of trouble.
(Hat tip: The Thoughts)