National Columnist

Will Coach K, Duke skate again? Yes, unless the heat stays on Blue Devils

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Before Duke won in 2010, Lance Thomas got benefits that might have made him ineligible. (Getty Images)  
Before Duke won in 2010, Lance Thomas got benefits that might have made him ineligible. (Getty Images)  

Duke is going to get away with it -- again. Eleven years after it used an ineligible player to reach the 1999 Final Four, Duke apparently used an ineligible player in 2010 when it won the national championship.

Nothing happened to Duke in 1999.

Nothing will happen to Duke in 2010.

Before I continue with the hypocrisy of the NCAA, let me make a few points about Duke in 1999: In a vacuum, I don't necessarily think Duke should have been punished because freshman Corey Maggette accepted $2,000 from an AAU coach while in high school -- a violation of NCAA rules. Technically, Maggette shouldn't have been eligible for the entire 1998-99 season, and by using him to win 37 games and reach the title game, Duke was using an ineligible player. Therefore that Final Four appearance should be vacated. The banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium should come down.

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Technically.

Again, I don't necessarily agree with that, just as I don't necessarily agree that Memphis should have vacated its 2008 Final Four appearance even if freshman Derrick Rose had posted an SAT score taken by someone else while in high school. The NCAA cleared Rose to play, just as it cleared Maggette at Duke, but when new information arose the NCAA held Memphis accountable for a mistake Rose made before he got to campus. I don't necessarily agree with that, but it happened, and the NCAA did hold Memphis accountable -- because that's what the NCAA does.

Only, the NCAA doesn't do it to Duke.

It didn't in 1999, although it held three other schools accountable for the sins of AAU coach Myron Piggie: UCLA, Oklahoma State and Missouri. All three schools had to suspend players who were given money in high school by Piggie, because the payments were discovered while that trio was still in college. Maggette? He was long gone. He turned pro after his freshman season. The NCAA couldn't suspend him in the NBA, but the NCAA didn't even pursue Duke's ill-gotten 1999 victories or NCAA tournament revenue -- even though an NCAA official acknowledged in 2000 that precedent said Duke should pay somehow.

"I expect [Duke] will lose 45 percent of the revenue earned at the 1999 NCAA tournament," NCAA public information coordinator Jane Janikowski said, "plus an automatic vacation of their performance in the tournament. In all the cases that have been similar to this one, that is what the precedent has been."

Not anymore, it's not. Duke got away with something that no school ever gets away with, and why? I can't tell you. If the sun rose tomorrow in the west, I wouldn't be able to explain that, either. Even if I saw it with my own eyes, as I did with Duke in 1999.

We're about to have a similar mystery with Duke, this one involving Lance Thomas and even bigger stakes -- a national championship.

According to court documents -- not rumors but actual court documents, the kind of evidence the NCAA used to crush Penn State in July -- Thomas made a $30,000 down payment on nearly $100,000 in jewelry in December 2009, when he was a senior on the Duke team. How did Thomas come up with the cash? Why would a merchant extend $67,800 in credit to an unemployed college senior? Nobody knows.

And nobody's ever going to find out.

After the jewelry company sued Thomas for defaulting on the loan -- hence the court documents -- the two sides reached a settlement. The NCAA is interested in Thomas' $30,000 down payment and $67,800 in financing, but the jewelry company says it won't talk to the NCAA, and Thomas probably won't, either.

That's where we are on this. If this were almost any other school, that school would get hammered by the NCAA based on the court documents. You know it. I know it. Hell, Duke has to know it. A player on its team received a $67,800 loan while in school, suggesting he received that loan on the promise that he would pay it back after turning pro somewhere, whether in this country or abroad. That sort of financing might sound logical, but it's a blatant NCAA violation. Allow college athletes to receive stuff based on their future earning potential, and you would have alums sweet-talking recruits onto campus by promising to "loan" cash or a car or even a house based on the recruit's future earnings.

That can't happen. What Lance Thomas did in 2009 can't happen -- yet it did. What will the NCAA do about it?

Nothing. And you know it. It's Corey Maggette all over again, a case that received some interest at first, then moved to the back burner, then fell off the stove entirely. Several years later, the NCAA determined Duke was innocent because its coach couldn't have known what Piggie was up to when Maggette was in high school. No such luck for UCLA, Oklahoma State and Missouri, who were apparently supposed to know what Piggie was up to when their players (JaRon Rush of UCLA, Andre Williams of Oklahoma State, Kareem Rush of Missouri) were in high school.

This Lance Thomas case could follow a similar path. It's getting interest now, but another scandal will happen soon enough, something shiny and sparkly, and like a bunch of dumb cats we'll let Duke go and we'll pounce on the new target. The Lance Thomas story will fade. That's what the NCAA is counting on, anyway.

So is Duke.

Don't let this one fade, people. It's not so much that Duke was dastardly in 2010 -- it's the hypocrisy of the NCAA, which arbitrarily chooses the schools, and coaches, it wants to punish.

This one is all or nothing. Either Duke surrenders the 2010 national title ... or nothing happens.

Don't let this one fade, people.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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