Nerlens Noel is a headline because of John Calipari

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We’ve got an update to the Nerlens Noel investigation, courtesy of the NCAA’s lead investigator, Pete Thamel of SI.com:

The NCAA has expanded its inquiry into Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, one of the nation’s top recruits in the class of 2012, as two NCAA enforcement officials traveled to Noel’s New Hampshire prep school for a three-hour meeting in early August. The NCAA’s questions focused on the cast of characters that surrounded Noel’s recruitment and how Noel paid for his unofficial visits, according to a person with knowledge of the NCAA inquiry.

This is the second first* time that the NCAA has made their way up to Tilton Academy, and the third second* time they’ve been to a high school that Noel attended during their investigation. (He spent his first two seasons at Everett High in the Boston area.)

*(I misread Thamel’s article, apologies.)

What makes this investigation all the more interesting, however, is the fact that UK sent their chief compliance officer, Sandy Bell, to the meeting. From Thamel:

Bell didn’t ask many questions, according to the source, but did take notes and spoke up occasionally. The presence of two NCAA enforcement officials and Bell gives the appearance that this case has gone beyond the routine checking of top prospects, according to one former NCAA investigator.

The “routine checking of top prospects” line is the key here. The same former investigator said that it’s “not common” for a compliance officer to tag along on these visits, which was followed up by Thamel with a quote from a veteran compliance official calling the incident “unusual but not incredibly unusual”.

Hate to break it to you guys, but there is nothing common or usual about Noel’s recruitment. First and foremost, he’s the No. 1 recruit in the country, and while I’m not a math whiz or anything like that, I’m pretty sure that there are only one of those each year. Wouldn’t that classify him as an “unusual but not incredibly unusual” recruit? Throw in the fact that he a) transferred high schools b) reclassified to enroll in college a year early and c) had the biggest paper in the country publish a story (also written by Thamel) about the nefarious characters surrounding his recruitment, and there is plenty of reason for the NCAA to do their due diligence in regards to Noel’s eligibility.

As you might imagine, this investigation has UK fans in an uproar that certainly wasn’t helped by Dickie V insinuating that the only reason Noel is being investigated is due to the fact that he went to Kentucky. Frankly, that plays a role.

But given John Calipari’s success on the recruiting trail in recent years, wouldn’t it be more likely that the NCAA investigates a recruit in the event that Kentucky gets beaten out by one of the schools chasing them? Like, oh, I don’t know, Shabazz Muhammad? Is the NCAA paying any attention to him? He’s heading to China with UCLA because not going to Kentucky immediately gets him eligible, right?

What about Rodney Purvis? He’s academically eligible, but the NCAA still hasn’t cleared him, which makes it logical to guess that the issue is an amateurism one. Does he play for Kentucky? What about Ricardo Ledo? I was away last week and must have missed the news that he left Providence.

The difference is that the investigation involving Noel is front page news, and that’s because of the name that will be on the front of his jersey come November and the man that coaches that team.

Look, the bottom line is this: John Calipari is the Teflon Don. He’s the guy that has had two Final Fours vacated without having his name implicated in any of the wrong doing. He’s the guy whose program is associated with World Wide Wes. He’s the guy that has cornered the recruiting market for blue-chip recruits while managing to keep his name out of any and all reports — media, NCAA, and otherwise — that explicitly link him to NCAA violations. There’s an intrigue around the way the he runs his program, the way that he recruits and the people that he associates himself with.

He’s every investigative reporter’s white whale, but that’s because he’s the biggest name in college basketball. If it comes out that Ben Howland “cheated” to get Muhammad or Mark Gottfried cut a check to get Purvis or Ed Cooley was shipping Ledo weekly Ricky Roe duffle bags, how many people care? College basketball fans and … that’s about it, right?

If it turns out that John Calipari has been paying recruits all along, everyone cares. It will be talked about on First Take and Around The Horn for months. I’d bet that at least three issues of Sports Illustrated would have Cal on the cover. I’d be forced to write 1,500 words a day for an entire year about it.

He’s a celebrity running the highest profile program in the country.

Anything that involves Calipari, Kentucky and the NCAA is — and should be — headline news.

If you don’t want the paparazzi chasing after you, don’t become a movie star. If you don’t want the NCAA to investigate your program and news outlets to cover it, don’t hire John Calipari. It comes with the territory.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.