I thought this was going to be a restful, relaxing holiday weekend. And after this post is completed, for me at least I am determined it will be. But I do think it is important to trace how this story came to be. While the New York Times dumped the story late on a Friday night, the reality is that the investigations into Eric Bledsoe have been going on since last fall. Some of you may remember that I tweeted out last fall that I believed a national writer was going to write a negative UK story at some point in the next week. That story was a derivative of this story and centered around the Eric Bledsoe affair. Reporters from a number of news organizations have been looking into Bledsoe for a long time, all hoping to get the magic scoop that would bring down Calipari. After nine months and investigations from a number of different media outlets, all we are left with is the New York Times story that was published last night. That should be comforting to all.
The question about Eric Bledsoe and his academic transcripts has been one that has been whispered about in media circles for some time. After his Junior year, most schools thought it impossible that Bledsoe could qualify, and thus schools like Memphis, Kentucky and Florida were not pursuing him heavily. But then his summer work and fall Senior year work changed the calculations and schools began recruiting him heavily. Neither UK under Gillispie, Florida under Donovan or Memphis under Calipari recruited Bledsoe until after all the events in the Times story. If you read the Times story (and the much more balanced Andy Katz ESPN story), you can see how the change could have happened. Bledsoe retook classes in which he had bad grades, replaced those grades with better grades (having a B instead of a D), took online classes and improved his grades during his Senior year. With those changes, his GPA went up to qualifiable standards, and the schools reentered the recruiting process. I am told by sources that during the entire time he was being recruited, Calipari never even saw Bledsoe play. All schools were that hands off the kid, waiting to see if his grades would make him eligible.
Now having said that, I have no idea how Eric Bledsoe did in school or whether he deserved the grades he received. But after reading the NY Times story, it seems as if they dont either. In fact, the Times story doesnt show any wrongdoing academically on the Bledsoe situation…it only hints at it without proof. There is use of the word “improbable” to describe the change in his GPA, but even after nine months of investigation by the NY Times, ESPN and the Birmingham newspaper (just to name the only outlets I know of who were on the story), no proof of wrongdoing was shown. Does that mean that no wrongdoing existed? I dont know. But here is what I do know…the NCAA cleared Bledsoe after an exhaustive review, meaning they looked into his grades and record even more heavily than they do regular student athletes. In addition, sources tell me that UK’s Compliance Department seeing the improvement in his GPA, did one of the most thorough reviews of a player’s transcript ever done at the University. And after all that work, the NCAA and UK both cleared Eric. So we have major news outlets, the NCAA and UK, all of whom have done digging…and none have found anything wrong. That needs to be remembered.
Nevertheless the story got written and dumped on a Friday night of Memorial Day Weekend. Which leads me to the question…if the story was so big, why release late on a Friday night of a holiday weekend? One explanation is that another outlet may have been close to beating them to the punch. But if so, the two other outlets that we know were investigating (ESPN and the Birmingham media) have both laid their cards on the table…and well, it isnt anything new. The other reason could be however, that even after all of the investigation, whispering and work, they released all they could go with…mainly an inference of academic cheating, $1200 for rent before any school was even looking at Bledsoe and an “unnamed coach” saying Bledsoe’s coach wanted money. None of those even implicate UK and absent more proof, dont even suggest that Bledsoe is close to being ruled ineligible. That isnt a lot of juice…and might explain a late Friday night dump.
Having said all of this, if this is just part of the story then my conclusion could change. But as for now, it looks to me like an attempt to get Calipari (and secondarily UK and Bledsoe) that simply doesnt have the juice that some wanted. I know for a fact that a prominent national journalist has said for quite some time that the NY Times was close to bringing down Calipari with a story on Bledsoe’s academic record. It was these comments that led the LEO writer to put out his piece on the coming story (you remember that?). Media folks have been saying for some time that this was coming and the implication was that a huge scandal would follow. But several national media members I spoke with today all came to the same conclusion…”thats all there is?” People know how much time the NY Times and some members of ESPN spent attempting to investigate and uncover a negative Bledsoe story. And all we have as of now is what was written in the Times today. From a journalism standpoint, that sure seems like a lot of work for little payoff.
So what we are left with is this. As of now, I can see nothing in the news we have now that would make Bledsoe ineligible or UK in trouble. The academic record has been looked at by everyone and as of now, no one has found impropriety. The $1200 issue has the potential to be sticky but the Durrel Arthur situation at Kansas suggests that if UK is shown to have no knowledge, it would effect eligibility if the money has no connection to agents or the school (which seems unlikely since the landlord says that there is $3200 left owed to this day). And the unnamed coach who says Bledsoe’s coach wanted money? There is no allegation that any school gave him any, so at this point, he is just another coach hoping to make a dollar (get in line). With the news as it is NOW, I cant see anything that gets UK into trouble. If the news changes, then that conclusion changes…but one would think that after nine months of investigating, if it were to be found, it would have been found.
So for now breathe easy…and enjoy the weekend. I am going to (at least until I explore what is really interesting…how did the Times get these transcripts?)