Memphis basketball’s star freshman James Wiseman has dropped his lawsuit against the NCAA, and the university has dropped its cause.
Now they’ll adhere to basic NCAA policies and procedures while working to establish Wiseman’s eligibility to play in the 2019-20 season.
After six days and two games’ worth of open defiance of NCAA authority, the Memphis athletic department has consented to follow the organization’s methodology for eligibility cases and declared Wiseman ineligible on Thursday. That is the first step in the process of getting him onto the court permanently for the Tigers, without future repercussions. The next is for the university to immediately petition for Wiseman’s reinstatement, which Memphis pledged to do in a statement released Thursday.
And that’s where it becomes tricky.
According to a ruling presented to Memphis last week, Wiseman is ineligible because his family accepted $11,500 in moving expenses from Tigers basketball legend Penny Hardaway, when Hardaway was sponsoring the Team Penny summer basketball club and coaching the team at East High. Because Hardaway donated $1 million to the school in 2008, the NCAA considers him a booster of Memphis’ athletic teams.
Ordinarily, the amount of money in question would equate to a suspension of 30 percent of the Tigers’ season, or nine games. A year ago, a payment of less than $3,000 resulted in Kansas forward Silvio DeSousa being initially suspended for two years, a penalty that eventually was reduced to one season. However, that Wiseman chose to drop his legal action against the NCAA and Memphis chose to follow the reinstatement process indicates that the school likely has the foundation of an agreement for him to resume playing in a reasonable period of time.
One part of the school’s statement suggests the penalty might be more lenient, perhaps because Wiseman’s options were limited by the NCAA — according to Wiseman’s attorneys — being aware of the payment and still clearing him to compete months in advance of the university’s fall term.
“The NCAA is fully aware of the unique nature and challenges in this particular case, and the University is confident that the NCAA will render a fair and equitable decision consistent with its mission,” the Memphis statement said.
A 7-1 center originally from Nashville, Wiseman is averaging 19.7 points and 10.7 rebounds for the 2-1 Tigers. He has played twice since the NCAA ruling arrived at Memphis indicating he was “likely ineligible”. After Wiseman’s legal team sought and received a court injunction, he appeared Friday in a victory over Illinois-Chicago and then traveled to Portland and played 22 foul-plagued minutes in a loss to No. 14. Oregon.
Memphis next plays Alcorn State on Friday. If he were to receive a nine-game punishment, he would miss games against Ole Miss, N.C. State and Tennessee that could be crucial to the program’s attempt to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. He would be back in time for the start of conference play Dec. 30 against Tulane.
Wiseman is permitted to practice with the team while his eligibility is examined.
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