On September 18, 2012, Laura Keely of the News & Observer reported former Duke basketball student-athlete Lance Thomas settled his pending lawsuit with the jeweler suing him for defaulting on a $67,800 payment. The amount owed, was the remaining balance from Thomas’ purchase of $97,800 worth of custom jewelry on Dec. 21, 2009, which was during his senior year at Duke. Thomas had made a $30,000 down payment and signed a purchase agreement at the time of purchase. When Thomas defaulted on his obligation, Raefello & Co. filed a lawsuit after repeated attempts to collect on the balance.
The NCAA has an interest in investigating this transaction due to both the large down payment as well as the line of credit the jeweler extended to Thomas as potential amateurism and extra-benefits legislation could be triggered depending on the facts. The key issues here would be the source of the $30,000 down payment and whether the $67,800 line of credit was provided based on the student-athlete’s athletic status or professional basketball potential.
The NCAA’s ability to investigate this matter, however, took a severe hit due to the confidentiality agreement included in the settlement. The NCAA does not have subpoena power and as a result cannot force Thomas or the jeweler to cooperate with the investigation. While the confidentiality agreement is clearly a major obstacle, it does not necessarily mean the case is closed and Duke has nothing to worry about.
NCAA Bylaw 32.1.4 provides that the “cooperative principle imposes an affirmative obligation on each institution to assist the enforcement staff in developing full information to determine whether a possible violation of NCAA legislation has occurred and the details thereof.” Further, NCAA Bylaw 10.1(a) and (d) allows the enforcement staff to charge anyone involved with unethical conduct should they provide false or misleading information, or if they withhold information relevant to the investigation. The NCAA will rely on these obligations in order to facilitate interviews with anyone at the institution (i.e., administrators, coaches or student-athletes) who may have knowledge of any possible violations involved with the transaction.
If no incriminating information surfaces the NCAA will likely have to conclude their investigation without moving forward. However, it is impossible to ascertain what information may arise during an interview or what agenda an interviewed party may have. Investigations often begin and violations are often discovered as a result of information provided by a disgruntled student-athlete, employee or other party. This case is no different. So while the confidentiality agreement and the NCAA’s lack of subpoena power is without a doubt a severe detriment to their investigation, Duke is not necessarily out of the woods just yet. And should information surface that other parties, who are subject to the cooperative principle and unethical conduct legislation, may have relevant knowledge, the investigation could gain momentum.