- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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So, you know how Wednesday I said the Shabazz Muhammad eligibility case had officially become a mess? I think I spoke too soon.
This story from the L.A. Times is what officially makes it a mess:
A conversation overheard on an Aug. 7 commuter flight from Chicago to Memphis, Tenn., has prompted attorneys representing UCLA basketball player Shabazz Muhammad to call for the NCAA to drop its investigation and declare him eligible.
The conversation came to light in an email from an attorney who said she was seated behind a man who was speaking loudly about the work of his girlfriend, an "attorney with the NCAA."
The girlfriend, whom he identified as "Abigail," was investigating Muhammad. The man made it clear that the NCAA would find Muhammad ineligible and not allow him to play this season, the email said. Abigail Grantstein, an assistant director of enforcement, is the NCAA's lead investigator on the Muhammad case.
Yeah. It's like that.
If your first reaction is "Wow, that's like four levels of hearsay," I'm right there with you. But Times reporter Baxter Holmes confirmed the lawyer's story and identity in a phone call Wednesday, and the details only get worse. The timing of the alleged flight incident came "just eight days after NCAA investigators say they first requested documents from Muhammad's family." If the timeline checks out, that would imply -- as Muhammad's representatives are loudly telling anyone who'll listen -- that members of NCAA enforcement were already telling their significant others Muhammad wouldn't play college basketball before they had all the facts.
What exactly did said boyfriend say? The anonymous lawyer paraphrased to Holmes:
In a telephone interview, the attorney expanded on what she heard: "He was insistent that, 'My girlfriend is investigating him and he's dirty' and … 'I can guarantee you that he's not going to play.'
"He talked specifically about taking money. That's what he kept saying: 'Abby knows it' and 'They're dirty and they were taking money and she's going to get them.'"
Theoretically, NCAA enforcement staff shouldn't be telling their significant others anything. Failing that, said significant others should definitely not be mouthing off about eligibility cases, trying to impress strangers on a flight. (You couldn't build a doghouse big enough for this dude.) Assuming any of that happened -- and a lawyer says it did -- well, yeah, that is a really bad look for the NCAA.
Where do they go from here? The NCAA is hearing UCLA's official appeal Friday. If the appeal is successful, he'll be reinstated right away. If not, UCLA can request reinstatement, at which point Muhammad would probably miss games and repay whatever benefits he allegedly received.
There is some reason to believe the NCAA, chastised and embarrassed, will do as Muhammad's lawyers say. There is also reason to believe the NCAA, feeling cornered by a sudden public battle, will ever more forcefully stand its ground. As CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish wrote Thursday: "I have no idea if the NCAA was really 'out to get' Shabazz like his lawyer suggested. But I guarantee you the NCAA is out to get him now."
As the immortal Marty Huggins said: It's a mess.