Time will tell whether Lance Thomas's 2009 jewelry purchase results in any repercussions for Duke. Credit: CHUCK LIDDYfirstname.lastname@example.org
Lance Thomas’s $97,800 jewelry purchase in 2009, now the subject of a lawsuit, came while the Duke team had dispersed for its holiday break.
After the Blue Devils’ Dec. 19 victory over Gonzaga in Madison Square Garden, the team had a few days off before the Dec. 29 game in Durham against Long Beach State. Thomas purchased five pieces of diamond jewelry with a $30,000 down payment at Rafaello & Company, a Manhattan jeweler, on Dec. 21, according to an Associated Press report. Thomas lived just outside the city in Scotch Plains, N.J.
Now, Rafaello & Co. is suing Thomas for the remaining $67,800, which he had agreed to pay within 15 days of his purchase. The lawsuit was filed in Texas’s Travis County in January and had not previously been publically disclosed.
Mike Bowers, the Dallas-based attorney for Rafaello & Co., said his client waited more than two years to file the suit because the jeweler had been trying to collect its money.
“There were efforts taken by my client to secure payment,” Bowers said. “Obviously the lawsuit was an option that unfortunately came to pass when arrangements could not be made to secure payment.”
John Spencer, Thomas’s Durham-based agent, referred comment to Joe Crews, Thomas’s Austin-based attorney. Crews did not return a voicemail left Saturday.
Spencer began representing Thomas in April 2011, while he was a member of the NBA D-league’s Austin Toros. Thomas was signed to his first 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets in December 2011 and appeared in 42 games, starting 10, for the Hornets in the 2011-12 season. He has a non-guaranteed contact for next year that would pay him $762,195.
“I was not aware of anything going on before that time,” Spencer said when asked about Thomas’s 2009 purchase.
One of the issues at hand is whether the $67,800 loan Thomas received constituted an “extra benefit” based on his status as an athlete. According the NCAA bylaw 16.01.3, receiving a benefit “is not a violation if it is demonstrated that the same general benefit is available to the institution’s students, their relatives, and friends determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.”
Bowers declined to comment whether it was standard practice for the jeweler to extend a college student that type of loan.
Rafaello & Co. filed a similar lawsuit last year against former Oklahoma State (and current Dallas Cowboys) wide receiver Dez Bryant for failing to pay $240,000 he owed for jewelry in 2010. Bryant made his purchases after he had declared he was leaving Oklahoma State early for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Duke associate athletic director for media relations, Jon Jackson, declined to comment beyond his Friday statement that the University was aware of the lawsuit and looking into the matter. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was unavailable for comment.
If (and that's a big if) Thomas is found to have received an extra benefit, It may not matter whether Duke knew of his purchase. In 2009, the NCAA ruled that Memphis had to vacate its 2008 season, including its Final Four appearance, because Derrick Rose was retroactively ruled ineligible for a fraudulent SAT score. The NCAA coined the term “strict liability” and concluded that it did not matter Memphis didn’t know Rose was ineligible.
“The institution’s assertion that, prior to the start of the 2007-08 season, it did not have sufficient information to conclude that student-athlete 1’s SAT test would be cancelled was not relevant under the circumstances,” the NCAA wrote.
The “strict liability” ruling broke from the precedent established in the NCAA’s handling of former Duke player Corey Maggette, a member of the Blue Devils’ 1999 Final Four squad. Maggette left Duke for the NBA draft after that season. In 2000, after a federal grand jury indictment was released, Maggette admitted to receiving cash payments from Myron Piggie, a summer basketball coach, prior to his arrival at Duke. Piggie admitted the money came in part from two agents. The NCAA said in April 2000 that it would investigate whether Duke used an ineligible player and whether anything would need returned.
It took until 2004 for the NCAA to make a decision. Duke was not punished because the NCAA ruled Duke did not and should not have known about the payments.
"Our executive regulations specify that if an individual plays while ineligible in the NCAA championships, we can either vacate the team's participation in the championship and/or assess a fine for the money that they received,” said David Price, then the NCAA’s Vice President of Enforcement, in 2004. “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. 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 believe firmly that the institution did not know and should not have known."
NCAA added bylaw 126.96.36.199 in 2005. It states “a head coach is presumed to have knowledge of what is occurring in his program and therefore, can be responsible for the actions of his staff and individuals associated with the program.
“In other words,” the rule continues, “if an allegation of Bylaw 188.8.131.52 is made against a head coach, then the coach must rebut the presumption that he had knowledge of what was occurring in his program and show that he did in fact set a proper tone of compliance and reasonably monitored the activities of his program.”
In the wake of the Memphis “strict liability” decision, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors proposed a change to the bylaw this August that’s designed to make head coaches more responsible for their programs.
“Rather than focusing on knowledge, or the presumption of knowledge, the bylaw is amended to presume only responsibility,” the board wrote. “Accordingly, if violations happen in a program, the head coach is presumed responsible (instead of knowledgeable, and therefore, responsible) for not promoting an atmosphere of compliance and/ or monitoring his or her staff.”
The change is set to take effect Aug. 1, 2013.