Any UCLA fans desperate for a hint whether heralded freshman Shabazz Muhammad will be eligible to play at the start of this season probably cringed reading Monday morning's story in the Los Angeles Times.
Muhammad's attorney, Robert Orr, made a comment reinforcing the notion that it's less a matter of whether the 6-foot-6 wing will be suspended to start the season and more a matter of how much time he'll miss.
While Orr continued to insist Muhammad "has done absolutely nothing in violation of any NCAA bylaw," he also appears to question the NCAA's right to scrutinize past events. Said Orr to the Times, "Shabazz didn't even turn 18 until November of 2011 and until he signed with UCLA in April of this year was not under NCAA jurisdiction."
We don't know the exact context of Orr's statement or whether he intends to pursue that argument further with the NCAA, but it certainly doesn't come across as very PR-savvy.
NCAA bylaws are clear that the organization has jurisdiction over a prospective student-athlete as soon as his recruiting process begins. Bylaw 13.01.1 reads: "A student is responsible for his or her involvement in a violation of NCAA regulations during the student's recruitment, and involvement in a major violation may cause the student to become permanently ineligible for intercollegiate athletics competition."
If Orr is prepared to attack the concept of pre-enrollment amateurism and claim the NCAA doesn't have jurisdiction over Muhammad until he begins taking classes at UCLA, he would be resorting to the ultimate "Hail Mary" defense. It's tantamount to acknowledging Muhammad accepted gifts during his recruitment yet arguing he should not be punished for them because the system is flawed.
Already known to be at issue in Muhammad's case are financial dealings between the shooting guard's family and financial advisers that could compromise his amateur status. CBSSports.com reported earlier this year that family friends and financial advisers Benjamin Lincoln and Ken Kavanagh paid for two of Muhammad's unofficial visits and helped fund his AAU team.
Muhammad did not participate in UCLA's exhibition tour of China in August, but he has practiced with the team since the start of practice last week. The NCAA has given no indication whether he or fellow top freshman Kyle Anderson will be cleared to play this season, though by all accounts Anderson appears to be more likely to avoid a suspension to start the season.