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NCAA Responds To McAdoo Lawsuit

They are returning calls now.

The NCAA has issued a response to Michael McAdoo's lawsuit demanding his eligibility be restored.

"Academic integrity is critically important to intercollegiate athletics and something that is expected from all student-athletes. As a result, the NCAA plans to vigorously defend the process by which penalties related to academic misconduct are ultimately determined by the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee, comprised of representatives from member institutions," the NCAA said in a statement Wednesday.

Translation: "Hey, sorry about not returning the multiple messages you left with our office. Our receptionist was on a cruise to Barbados and, well, you know how hard it is to find a good temp these days. Anyway, we got the lawsuit and rest assured we cannot allow the scourge of players who receive $110 in impermissible benefits and turn in papers with work cited pages formatted by someone else taint the sanctity of competition! We will fight for our right to completely ignore our own procedures and mete out inconsistent penalties come hell or high water!"

Actually the NCAA is taking a position similar to the one UNC took in the public records lawsuit. It is not about the specifics but the precedent. The NCAA does not really care about McAdoo's case as much as it is about keep the courts from establishing a legal precedent which deems the enforcement process a complete sham. On the PR side it will be about the NCAA handing down a two year suspension to a player who did things that the NCAA punished with less gusto in previous cases. That has little bearing in court where the last thing the NCAA wants is a door being opened for future litigation from athletes who think the NCAA acted unfairly. As a side note to that, it is funny how the NCAA would rather engage in a legal fight to maintain the status quo than actually work to address the shortcomings in the way enforcement is handled.

Since the NCAA's ultimate endgame here is to protect the current system then the July 15 preliminary hearing might be more crucial to how this lawsuit plays out than the trial. The injunction is the key for McAdoo getting back on the field for the upcoming season. Since he only has the one year of eligibility left, if the court does not grant him the upcoming season then he won't have one. In essence the NCAA has time on its side here. There is little chance the lawsuit would wrap up in time to help McAdoo. If the NCAA wins the preliminary hearing then they can offer McAdoo a settlement for the damages, keep him off the field and there is no trial which could force the NCAA to change the way they do business. The reason a settlement might be an enticing option is the injunction is based in part on McAdoo's chances of winning the suit. If it is denied then it stands to reason the case might not succeed.

The flip side to that is if the court does grant McAdoo the injunction it sets up a very interesting situation. UNC will be using a player the NCAA has said is ineligible while the courts decide whether to ultimately overturn that decision. The NCAA will have to decide whether they want to engage in a full blown legal battle over one player. At the same time the NCAA could also decide to concede the point, reverse the penalty and keep this out of the court system. The NCAA would still have to deal with student-athletes attempting to force the issue using the court system. However that is a better alternative than there being actual legal precedent on the books. Either way, whoever wins the July 15th hearing will be in a better position.

At this point a couple of things should be noted.

First, no one is arguing McAdoo is innocent. The argument here is about process and punishment which was handled poorly and handed disproportionately. Secondly, we are drawing our current conclusions on the case as presented by McAdoo's attorneys. When the NCAA responds in kind we will see if there are other issues which may have justified the decision. Given how detailed the McAdoo filing the only thing I imagine the NCAA might reveal is that McAdoo lied at some point in their investigation which generally brings the heat from the enforcement division.

In other news, former NC Supreme Court justice Robert Orr discussed McAdoo's case with 99.9 The Fan's Adam Gold and Joe Ovies today. Orr has basically owned the NCAA in the two cases he has handled including getting a reversal of Devon Ramsay's permanent ineligibility penalty. The money line(as Doc put it) from Orr came when he revealed what he was told(or not told rather) about the rights of student athletes according to the NCAA Manual.

When I first got involved with the Devon Ramsay case I was stunned at the lack of rights the student athletes have in all of this....I actually had a very interesting conference call with the director of compliance for the NCAA and one of their lawyers which I asked where in this 435 page manual will I find something about the rights of student athletes.  There was this long pause and finally one of them says, "That's a really good question."

Orr also noted the "circuitous" process on which the NCAA operates which involves self reported violations on the basis of NCAA intepretation who also hold a great deal of power in the penalties it can levy. Nowhere in any of that is there a recourse for the student-athlete. Orr also answered why UNC was named in the lawsuit. It is largely procedural since UNC is vested with the responsibility to determine eligibility and the bylaws say that rests with the chancellor hence the inclusion of Holden Thorp. Chances are UNC is not that upset about being named as a defendant and is perfectly willing to sit back and watch it like the rest of us.