Will James Wiseman play for Memphis again? Explaining next steps in NCAA eligibility process

Sporting News

If the headline you read declared something like “James Wiseman declared ineligible," the media outlet you were following failed you.

That is not an accurate reflection of the news coming Thursday from Memphis.

The most important element of the action that developed was not that Wiseman was declared ineligible, but that the University of Memphis had begun the process of having him reinstated for competition. That’s how the NCAA eligibility process typically works, but not the course that Memphis followed after receiving a rules interpretation last week that Wiseman was “likely ineligible” because his mother accepted $11,500 in moving expenses from Tigers legend Penny Hardaway.

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Now the Memphis head men’s basketball coach, Hardaway then was sponsoring the summer basketball club Team Penny and coaching the varsity team at East High. But the NCAA regards Hardaway as a booster of Tigers athletics because he donated $1 million to establish an athletic hall of fame at the school.

MORE: Explaining the details of James Wiseman's eligibility case

Because of that, the NCAA informed Memphis late last week that Wiseman was “likely ineligible” to compete. Wiseman then filed a suit against the NCAA and requested an injunction that would allow him to continue playing. He got it, then played two games for the Tigers. That case was dropped Thursday as Memphis began the process of seeking reinstatement.

So here is what that most likely means for Wiseman’s season:

Will James Wiseman play for Memphis again in 2019-20?

This is a 99.99 percent certainty. Wiseman did not drop his legal case, and the university its defiance of common NCAA procedure, in order for him to draw a full-year suspension from intercollegiate competition.

Wiseman had a fantastic legal team advising him, and if they went along with dropping the case they had to know he would be treated kindly — not just fairly, but kindly — by the NCAA reinstatement process.

How long will NCAA's process take before he is cleared?

We can reasonably assume he’ll miss Friday’s game against Alcorn State, but it’s difficult to say how much time the NCAA reinstatement staff would need to make a ruling. Most of the pertinent facts would seem to be in their hands at this point.

James Wiseman will be suspended, right?

There isn’t any question about that. The only question is how long it will last. Sometimes, the process drags on and the suspension turns out to be a matter of “time served.” That seems less likely here. The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement committee likely will finish its work after Wiseman has missed a game, maybe two, and it seems certain his suspension will not be for substantially longer than that.

Is the NCAA going easy on James Wiseman?

The NCAA has a formula most often applied to cases such as these in which an amount like $11,500 would equate to a suspension of 30 percent of the team’s season (plus a reimbursement of the full amount). That would mean Wiseman missing nine games, including crucial contests against Ole Miss, N.C. State and Tennessee.

In the announcement that Wiseman had been declared ineligible and immediate reinstatement sought, Memphis said something one does not ordinarily hear in these cases: “The NCAA is fully aware of the unique nature and challenges in this particular case, and the University is confident that the NCAA will render a fair and equitable decision consistent with its mission.”

The only “unique” challenge relative to this case that has been made public was the original contention by Wiseman’s legal team that the NCAA was fully aware last spring of the payment from Hardaway to Wiseman’s mother and declared him eligible despite that knowledge.

That declaration led Wiseman to remain with his first choice, playing at Memphis, as opposed to seeing one of a number of remedies: Requesting eligibility at another Division I program, playing a season in the G League, joining the growing number of young prospects signing in Australia’s NBL or simply arranging a deal like the one that carried Darius Bazley through the winter of 2018-19 on the way to becoming the 23rd overall pick in the NBA Draft.

How much will Memphis miss James Wiseman while he sits?

That depends largely on how long that continues. The game Friday against Alcorn should not be an issue. Little Rock would be more challenging Tuesday. It’s unlikely Wiseman will play Nov. 23 against Ole Miss. That’s a rivalry game and the Rebels feature All-America candidate Breein Tyree.

After that is a visit to Brooklyn to play N.C. State, and the Tigers might really begin to sweat his absence then. They have five high-major games on their schedule before opening competition in the American Conference. They already lost one, Tuesday to Oregon, and if the suspension is even five games, Memphis would be try to pass two more of their biggest tests without their best player.

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