Memphis’s James Wiseman Faces Eligibility Questions

What’s at stake may be more than one player’s ability to play basketball

James Wiseman
James Wiseman is at the center of a controversy within the NCAA concerning his eligibility to play in the future.
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
By Tobias Carroll / November 9, 2019 11:45 am

What happens when a leading college basketball prospect is deemed ineligible to play by the NCAA? That’s the dilemma facing Memphis freshman James Wiseman right now. Wiseman played in Friday night’s game against Illinois-Chicago, scoring 17 points — but only because a judge in Shelby County had blocked the NCAA’s ruling earlier in the day. This, in turn, led to an ominously-worded statement by the NCAA.

At issue here is money paid to Wiseman’s family by current Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway to aid in a move in 2017. Hardaway was not coaching for Memphis at the time. As ESPN reports, “[t]he NCAA deemed that Hardaway, a Memphis alum, was a booster at the time, according to Wiseman’s attorney, Leslie Ballin.”

The situation has prompted heated commentary from a number of college basketball observers. At CBS Sports, Gary Parrish argued that the ethics of the situation were problematic at best

Truth is, regardless of whether Hardaway ever planned on coaching at Memphis or any other college, or if Wiseman ever planned on playing for Hardaway at Memphis or any other college, once Hardaway provided approximately $11,500 to Wiseman’s family, Wiseman was at risk of being punished by the NCAA.

Meanwhile, The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman notes that the NCAA’s stance might end up driving more players out of college sports. “Top prospects are already realizing they don’t need college sports once they’ve proved their worth to professional evaluators,” Sherman writes. “Is the NCAA really sure it wants to police small-scale, past-tense payments to athletes, and ensure that some of the top prospects still playing college sports have to move on?”

The situation Wiseman currently faces is a tricky one — but it’s also something that has much broader implications for the sport, and for college sports in America as a whole. 

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