DURHAM — When Lance Thomas met with the media Monday as NBA training camps opened, he made two statements that were initially met with surprise.
He hadn’t spoken to anyone at Duke about his recent lawsuit. And he was planning on speaking to the NCAA.
“The thing that struck me as weirder was that he planned to talk to the NCAA when he didn’t have to,” said John Infante, a former assistant director of compliance at Colorado State who now writes a blog on compliance issues. “If he does, it makes it easier for them to get to the bottom. If he’s going to do that, then you would think he’s pretty confident he didn’t commit a violation.”
Thomas drew the attention of the NCAA at the beginning of September when a lawsuit against him by Manhattan-based jeweler Rafaello & Co. was made public. The jeweler sued him after he failed to repay a $67,800 line of credit on a purchase of jewelry that totaled nearly $100,000. The lawsuit was settled out of court, and Mike Bowers, the jeweler’s lawyer, said his client will not speak with the NCAA. Thomas bought the jewelry during Duke’s 2010 national championship season.
Key questions include how Thomas, then a senior, obtained $30,000 for a down payment and whether he received an extra benefit when he was extended a $67,800, 15-day loan.
NCAA president Mark Emmert indicated Monday that the organization doesn’t necessarily need Thomas’ help if it wants to pursue a case against Duke.
“We certainly could deal with a case where we don’t necessarily have cooperation from the actors, but we still have to rely on facts and rely on well-established information,” Emmert said to CBSSports.com while making it clear he was speaking in general terms and not specifically about Duke’s situation. “It occasionally drives fans out there crazy because they’ll read in a blog or some other source that this or that happened. But the standards of evidence that we use are pretty darn high because we’re dealing with people’s lives here. … We have to go out and make sure we can verify all that facts, and that’s always a big challenge” without cooperation.
The fact that Thomas hasn’t spoken to Duke, though, follows standard NCAA procedure. While Duke’s compliance officers are not explicitly banned from talking with him, the Cooperative Principle, Bylaw 32.1.4, obligates member institutions to assist the enforcement staff in finding information about a possible violation. All individuals who are subject to NCAA rules protect the integrity of an investigation.
“The enforcement staff will usually share information with the institution during an investigation,” the bylaw states. “However, it is understood that the staff, to protect the integrity of the investigation, may not in all instances be able to share information with the institution.”
Running afoul of the Cooperative Principle caused Georgia Tech to lose its ACC 2009 football championship when the NCAA ruled the school warned a football player ahead of an interview with investigators. The school also was fined $100,000.
“This case provides a cautionary tale of conduct that member institutions should avoid while under investigation,” the infractions committee wrote.
The NCAA has until Dec. 21, 2013, four years after Thomas’ purchase, to deliver Duke a notice of inquiry orally or in writing. When asked whether Duke was the subject of an official NCAA investigation, spokeswoman Stacey Osburn refused to comment beyond the Sept. 7 statement: “We are aware of the matter and have been in communication with the university.”
Duke associate athletic director Jon Jackson reiterated the school’s previous statement that they are looking into the matter together with the NCAA.