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Attorney: NCAA deems James Wiseman ineligible to play for Memphis; judge signs temporary order allowing him to play

Updated: Nov. 8, 2019 at 5:26 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Shelby County judge has signed a temporary order allowing James Wiseman to play for the Memphis Tigers, according to Memphis attorney Blake Ballin.

This comes after the NCAA deemed the top freshman in the nation ineligible to play at the University of Memphis by the NCAA.

Memphis attorney Leslie Ballin announced it Friday in a news conference a little more than an hour before the Tigers were scheduled to play against the University of Illinois-Chicago at FedExForum.

Ballin said the NCAA sent a letter to the University of Memphis Nov. 5, claiming Wiseman is ineligible.

Leslie and Blake Ballin say it is puzzling and confusing because of what happened earlier this year.

"In May of this year, a letter was issued that Mr. Wiseman was eligible as an amateur to play,” said Ballin.

Then, the NCAA said it was not comfortable with that decision but would let it stand.

Then on Nov. 5 the NCAA sent a letter saying Wiseman was ineligible.

According to Ballin, the ruling stemmed from Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway’s role in helping Wiseman’s family move to Memphis from Nashville when Wiseman was in high school and before Hardaway became the head coach at Memphis.

The Ballin and Farese law firms are representing Wiseman and have filed a lawsuit against the NCAA and the University of Memphis to restore Wiseman’s eligibility.

UofM Athletics released a lengthy statement Friday evening, confirming Wiseman would play and saying they are working toward a speedy resolution.

Based on a rule interpretation issued by the NCAA, University of Memphis freshman men’s basketball student-athlete James Wiseman was going to be withheld from competition. However, based on an emergency temporary restraining order issued late today by the courts, James will participate in tonight’s game. The University is currently working with the NCAA staff to restore his playing status, and we are hopeful for a speedy resolution to the matter.

Initially, after a joint standard eligibility review by the University and the NCAA, as is common for all high-profile incoming student-athletes, James was declared eligible by the NCAA in May 2019. However, based on information that necessitated a deeper investigation, the University began to work alongside the NCAA in investigating the matter. After several months of interviews and, after a review of documentation, it was determined that in the summer of 2017, while James was a high school student and prospective student-athlete, Penny Hardaway provided $11,500 in moving expenses to assist the Wiseman family in their relocation to Memphis, unbeknownst to James.

“Particularly given the unique circumstances in this case, we are hopeful for a fair and equitable resolution on James’ eligibility,” stated University of Memphis President M. David Rudd. “We support James’ right to challenge the NCAA ruling on this matter. The University of Memphis has high standards of ethical conduct for all faculty, staff and students, and we take seriously any allegations or conduct that is not aligned with our mission. We will acknowledge and accept responsibility for proven violations of NCAA bylaws. The University of Memphis firmly supports James, Coach Hardaway and our men’s basketball program in this matter.”

“The University of Memphis is enjoying a tremendous period of positive momentum and success on multiple fronts including the excitement surrounding our men’s basketball program,” stated Laird Veatch, University of Memphis Director of Athletics. “This matter is extremely unfortunate and frustrating at this special time in our history. We will continue to be cooperative, respectful and professional in our dealings with the NCAA, while availing ourselves of every resource in the best interests of our student-athletes, our coach, and our University. It is clear to me in my short time here that Memphians will stand up and fight, both for each other and for what is right, and I am proud to stand with them.”

Wiseman’s attorneys say the NCAA is considering Hardaway a booster. The NCAA has a lengthy explanation online about what they consider a booster -- anyone who participated in or has been a member of an organization supporting the university’s athletic programs.

That also includes someone who has been involved with promoting university athletics.

The guidelines go on to say boosters may not encourage a prospect’s participation in university athletics.

In 2008, Hardaway gave $1 million to the University of Memphis. The NCAA said that made him a booster.

So, when Hardaway paid to have Wiseman and his mother move to Memphis in 2017 to play for him at East High it made Wiseman ineligible because Hardaway was a booster for life.

"The by-laws of the NCAA are so open-ended, once you make a contribution … whether you make a $10 donation or $1 million donation, you’re are a booster at the University indefinitely,” said Ballin.

The Ballins say Hardaway’s dealings with Wiseman were never a secret.

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