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Will an ‘overheard conversation’ change the tenor of the Shabazz Muhammad investigation?

Nov 15, 2012, 9:58 AM EDT

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The saga that is UCLA’s quest to get prized freshman Shabazz Muhammad cleared by the NCAA is one that has dragged on for quite some time. We’ve had a statement from the family disputing the governing body’s claims that Muhammad violated amateurism rules, but few could have expected what was released Wednesday night.

According to Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times, lawyers representing Muhammad believe that because of a conversation overheard on a flight from Chicago to Memphis in early August the NCAA had its mind made up to declare Muhammad ineligible.

The individual with the loose lips is (or it could be “was” by this point) reportedly the boyfriend of the attorney who working the case for the NCAA:

The conversation came to light in an email from an attorney who said she was seated behind a man who was speaking loudly about the work of his girlfriend, an “attorney with the NCAA.”

The girlfriend, whom he identified as “Abigail,” was investigating Muhammad. The man made it clear that the NCAA would find Muhammad ineligible and not allow him to play this season, the email said. Abigail Grantstein, an assistant director of enforcement, is the NCAA’s lead investigator on the Muhammad case.

The attorney, who confirmed her story in a telephone interview with The Times on Wednesday, said in her email that she was concerned with the lack of confidentiality and “the cavalier discussion of this young man’s future being tossed about for everyone to hear.”

The attorney (who according to the Times asked that her name not be released) sent emails to Dennis Thomas, a former chairman of the NCAA’s infractions committee, UCLA and the lawyer representing the family in this case, Robert Orr.

The question: how much of an impact will this have on the appeal filed by UCLA on Muhammad’s behalf, which is set to be heard on Friday?

And will the impact be positive (the NCAA rules him eligible) or negative (they say to hell with it and uphold the ruling without giving it much thought)?

Whether or not this conversation actually took place is something that’s up for debate; an answer that only the people on the plane truly know. The goal of Muhammad’s representation is to show that the NCAA had its mind made up before they even heard the case, but would the NCAA ever admit to that?

The introduction of this conversation as evidence could be a last-ditch effort to get the NCAA to change course, a “Hail Mary” so to speak. And those tend to not have a very high rate of success.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej. 

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