Five years after the Clippers' Corey Maggette played for Duke in the NCAA championship game and later was found to be ineligible for accepting improper payments in high school, the NCAA announced that Duke would not be penalized for his participation.
Maggette was involved in the case surrounding Kansas City summer league coach Myron Piggie, who in 2001 was sentenced to more than three years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and failure to file a federal income tax return.
Piggie also made improper payments to former UCLA player JaRon Rush, who served a lengthy suspension during the 1999-2000 season but played in a NCAA tournament loss to Detroit Mercy, resulting in UCLA's forfeiting $45,321, a portion of its tournament revenue.
Duke has dodged any such penalty.
The NCAA, which informed Duke of its decision a number of months ago but made no public announcement, said the distinction was that Duke was not aware of Maggette's eligibility issue when he played in the Final Four in 1999, despite rumors of improprieties. (UCLA suspended Rush the next season, after he'd testified before a grand jury and FBI agents had interviewed athletic department officials.)
Had the NCAA determined that Duke knew or should have known Maggette was ineligible during the 1998-99 season, it could have vacated the team's participation in the NCAA tournament and/or assessed a fine based on the money the school received.
(In a similar case, Michigan vacated its participation in the 1992 and '93 Final Fours because of illegal payments to players that began while they were in high school. In that case, however, payments continued during their college careers.)
"The standard for that is whether either the institution knew or should have known that Maggette was ineligible, or if Maggette himself knew that -- or should have known that he was ineligible," said David Price, the NCAA's vice president for enforcement.
"After a lengthy investigation, we came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to determine that Maggette knew or should have known, and we firmly believe that the institution did not know and should not have known. Consequently, we have notified the institution that there will be no action by the NCAA."
Maggette, a freshman on the team that lost to Connecticut in the 1999 NCAA championship game, declared for the NBA draft after the season.
The "pay for play" movement that once seemed to be gaining momentum gets no support from NCAA President Myles Brand, although he said he was in favor of "full-cost" scholarships.
Brand said using NCAA tournament revenue to pay athletes would turn college sports into "third-rate professional sports."
"We can't provide pay-for-play without destroying college sports," he said.
"I will add, though, that we want to make sure our student-athletes have adequate support, scholarship support, in order to attend to both basketball and their academics. So I am in favor over time in moving toward full cost of attendance, which is modestly higher -- $2,000-$3,000 higher -- than the grants-in-aid now being paid.
"But that's just to make more fair the scholarship levels. It is not to move toward a pay-for-play approach."
Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt is the only first-time coach in the Final Four, but each of the three others has developed his own approach to handling the event.
"Distractions are really a problem for the coaching staff in trying to keep everybody focused," said Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton, who guided Arkansas to the Final Four in 1978 and took Oklahoma State in 1995.
"I'm sure on everybody's campus, the coeds go around, pat the guys on the back. Everybody wants autographs, their phones ring off the wall. It can be very difficult to insulate them."