When asked about the Lance Thomas situation, Mike Krzyzewski said he doesn't know what happened. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
CHARLOTTE—Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media Wednesday that he doesn’t know the circumstances surrounding Lance Thomas’s December 2009 jewelry purchase.
“No, I don’t know what happened,” Krzyzewski said. “In Lance’s situation, when we heard the rumor of his lawsuit, we contacted our administration in early September. And they then contacted the NCAA. And what they’re doing is looking into it. There’s no investigation, they’re looking into it. We have to make sure that we honor the integrity of that process in moving along. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and that’s really about all I can say about it. That’s just the way it works.”
Thomas purchased $97,800 worth of custom jewelry on Dec. 21, 2009, midway through his senior year. He made a $30,000 down payment and signed a purchase agreement to pay the balance within 15 days. Thomas defaulted on his payment. Raefello & Co. filed a lawsuit in January after repeated attempts to collect payment. The lawsuit was made public in September, and both parties had reached a settlement later that month.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the Duke has kept the league office informed.
“I know Duke and the NCAA are talking to each other,” he said. “And that’s about all I can tell you at this point.
“Any time an athlete or a program has potential NCAA issues, yes, I’m concerned,” Swofford said. “But I would answer that the same way with any institution or any circumstances that may relate to an NCAA violation. We take a great deal of pride in this league and make every attempt to do things right.”
Krzyzewski did speak in general about the pitfalls of compliance. The first step, he said, is to have a day-to-day working relationship with the compliance department, not just about what’s wrong, but also about what is allowed under the rules.
“The rulebook is complicated because they are so many exceptions, there are other things that are added besides just the letter of the law,” he said. “The fact is, you know, sports is not unlike any other aspect of our society. At times, somebody can do something wrong. For whatever reason. Or they could do something that is perceived to be wrong. And then you try to find out what happened, and you try to do something about it. It’s a precarious, slippery slope.”
“One thing you should always remember is that they are kids,” he continued. “A number of times, kids can do things that they don’t even know are wrong. Or, they’re put in positions where they do something with peer pressure. I mean, come on, that’s happened on every college campus, whether it’s with drugs, alcohol or academic integrity. These things are happening every day on every campus. So, to think that something cannot happen to you would be really foolish. What you try to do is create an environment where that kid, at the moment of decision, would do the right thing. If they don’t, then you try to figure out why it occurred.”
One particular compliance point Kryzewski pointed out was the idea of “strict liability,” a term that originated when Memphis was forced to vacate the 2008 when Derrick Rose was retroactively ruled ineligible for a fraudulent SAT score. In the ruling, the NCAA said that it didn’t matter that Memphis did not know Rose was ineligible—the school was still responsible.
“There’s no such thing is strict (liability) on any type of bylaw or anything like that in the NCAA rulebook,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s a misconception. Every case is different. When that little catchphrase was said, it was said be someone in enforcement just saying something, but it’s not a part of any type of precedent or anything like that. But overall, you are responsible. What does that mean? Well, look at every case, and if there is a case, you see what that means. And I think that’s the way to do it.”
In light of coaches being held responsible for the actions of their players 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, Krzyzewski said that the rules dictating player-coach interactions should be revisited. During the offseason especially, coaches are only allowed limited contact with their players.
Another rule Krzyzewski thinks should be amended is that transfer rule. Currently, transfers who are not eligible to play that season, like Duke’s Rodney Hood this year or Seth Curry in 2009-10, cannot travel with the team. Coaches, though, are still responsible for those players while the team is away.
“So, you talk about responsibility, when we go to Atlantis for our tournament, Rodney Hood will not be able to come,” Krzyzewski said. “Now, Rodney Hood has been at every practice, he’s on the scout team, he’s under scholarship, and all the sudden we’re going to leave on Sunday night, he’ll be at school for a couple days, and we’ll be in Atlantis. We’ll come back during Thanksgiving vacation. Where will he be? Does he stay? Who is responsively for him? It’s unbelievably wrong. It’s unbelievably wrong. And they should change it now.”