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The NCAA Might be Paying Duke a Visit Next

Former Duke basketball player and member of the 2010 NCAA title team Lance Thomas is being sued by a New York based jeweler over nearly $100,000 of diamonds he purchased in 2009.

Lance Thomas purchased five pieces of diamond jewelry at a cost of $97,800 on Dec. 21, 2009, in the middle of his senior season, according the lawsuit. Documents included with the suit indicate he made a $30,000 down payment and received $67,800 in credit from the firm, which caters to professional athletes. The nearly $68,000 balance remains unpaid.

According to the report, Thomas put down a $30,000 down payment and was given a credit line for the rest with the expectation it would be paid in full after 15 days. It is now over two years later and since Thomas still owes the money, the jeweler is suing.

The two questions the NCAA will have here are:

Where did the $30,000 down payment come from?

Was Thomas given a credit line based on his status as an athlete or on the promise of future earnings?

If Thomas was shown preferential treatment because of his connection to Duke or based on the belief he would earn money in the NBA one day(a laughable notion at the time) then it is an NCAA violation. If the money Thomas used for the down payment came from a illicit source(agent, booster, etc) then it is also an NCAA violation.

As it stands the answer to either of those questions is not known and by all accounts the NCAA has just begun looking into the matter. One possible saving grace for Duke here is neither Thomas nor the jeweler are obligated to talk with the NCAA due to the organization's lack of subpoena power. However, as the always indispensable John Infante points out, the jeweler might be inclined to sit down with the NCAA which could force Thomas to deal with the enforcement investigators or else risk his take on this matter being ignored.

That makes the case substantially easier to prove for the NCAA. They now have a party who provided a potentially impermissible benefit (the jeweler) who because of the lawsuit may be motivated to talk to the NCAA. If the NCAA gets enough information, Thomas will be forced to either agree to talk to the NCAA or allow the jeweler’s side of the story to stand. It is much more likely now the NCAA will find evidence that Thomas received an impermissible benefit or failing that, at least get enough leverage to talk to Thomas and get his side of the story.

At this stage, Thomas' best move might be to settle the lawsuit with the jeweler, pay what they are asking for and see if he can dissuade them from talking to the NCAA about it. If both parties refuse to talk, the NCAA would be hard pressed to bring any allegations due to lack of evidence. As was seen in UNC's football infractions case, being open with the NCAA is a mixed bag. If you can avoid talking to them and there is no tangible penalty for lack of cooperation, chance are the damage can be contained.

Now back to worrying about UNC's own issues.