In 2009, Lance Thomas, then a forward for Duke (now a New Orleans Hornet), bought $97,800 worth of jewelry at Rafaello & Co. in midtown Manhattan; he paid $30,000 upfront and the store expected him to pay off the remaining balance in 15 days. He did not, according to a lawsuit filed by the jeweler and obtained by the AP over the weekend. That year, Duke won both the ACC tournament and the national championship, with Thomas starting at power forward and contributing 4.8 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. In all, he played four years at Duke, appearing in 140 games and starting in 101.
If this is the first time you're hearing about this, savor the moment: there's a good chance you'll be sick of it pretty soon, even if you hate Duke. ESPN's Dana O'Niel points out the parallel to the Terrelle Pryor dust-up at Ohio State: It's not exactly selling memorabilia for tattoos, but, as O'Niel wonders,
Did Rafaello & Co., a jeweler with a website that touts its client list of rappers and pro athletes, extend an opportunity to Thomas to pay less than a third of the purchase in advance because of who he is? Because, in other words, he played for Duke?
(Great, by the way, another student-athlete scandal where we can use code words; "tattoos" were OK, but in this one you can say "bling" and "rapper." Even better!) The NCAA rulebook states, "Receipt by a student-athlete of an award, benefit or expense allowance not authorized by [the] NCAA"—whether "benefit" might be said to include a seemingly normal payment plan for a lot of jewelry remains to be seen—"renders the student-athlete ineligible for athletics competition." Even if the store's deal doesn't implicate Thomas in any infraction, there's an NCAA investigator out there beginning, or maybe in the middle of, a search into where Thomas might have gotten $30,000 to spend on jewelery.
If Thomas is ruled retroactively ineligible, that vacates the 2010 national championship and ACC title, but not postseason results for other years Thomas played on the team—like the ACC tournament championship in 2009. Results after the infraction are vacated—the jewelry was purchased on Dec. 21, 2009, so the previous seasons (which ended less impressively) are safe.
The positive here is obviously that Thomas's impropriety, such as it was, serves as a pin-prick in Mike Krzyzewski's bubble of sanctimony about—as written here once upon a time—"creating scholar-athletes at his private university, which, he seems to believe, is the sacred ground for all that is holy in college athletics." A (still pending) investigation might be a drag, and could amount to nothing at all, but at least we get to see Coach K squirm a little.
Krzyzewski once complained to Will Blythe: "Let's say at Ohio State that we did what we have done at Duke, there would be statues." Now Duke may have done something like what Ohio State did in 2011. That stuff did not get Jim Tressel a statue.