- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is what happens when the NCAA can't force anyone to talk about an enforcement case: The case withers on the vine until its slow, quiet death. And so ends the saga of Lance Thomas.
In September of 2012, New York-based jeweler Rafaello & Co. (not to be confused with Jean Ralphio) sued Thomas, a forward on Duke's 2010 national title team, for failing to repay a 2009 purchase of $67,800 in high-end jewelry, which he was loaned when Thomas made a $30,000 cash down payment at the store, according to the court complaint discovered by the Associated Press.
Much speculation abounded: Did Thomas get a considerable amount of credit from a jeweler-to-the-stars because he played for Duke? And how did drop off $30,000 in cash, exactly? The pitchforks came out immediately. Here was pristine and widely derided Duke with a potential jewelry scandal on its hands. It didn't look good. The only problem: Neither the jeweler nor Thomas had any reason to talk to the NCAA, and the NCAA no legal or institutional mandate to compel such discussions. If everyone kept their mouths shut, the whole thing would probably go away.
On Tuesday, Duke made the NCAA's announcement for it. The whole thing has gone away:
“The NCAA has found no evidence of a rules violation in this situation based on the information available, and both the NCAA and Duke consider the matter closed,” Duke associate athletic director Jon Jackson said in a statement.
"Based on the information available" is the key phrase, because it's pretty obvious that there was no information available. And not necessarily because the whole thing was on the up and up. Merely because no one had to talk, so no one did, and the NCAA presumably had nothing on which to base a detailed investigation. And it's not like the organization is flush with enforcement staff these days anyway. Still, Thomas had indicated at various points that he wanted to clear the air, and was willing speak with the NCAA. At some point, that changed.
It would be tempting to lash out at the infamous perception of unfair NCAA enforcement, the pervasive notion that the organization won't touch its few sacred cows -- Duke being perhaps the most sacred of all. That doesn't seem to apply here. Instead, the discussion should be about an NCAA enforcement group that, for all its supposed power, can't get a jeweler and an NBA player to talk about a blatantly questionable $100,000 jewelry purchase so long as neither of the accused parties is a current student-athlete. And why would they?