Randolph Morris was reinstated only after a questionable fax was fabricated by the University of Kentucky at the last moment. Morris shouldn't have been eligible anyway because he signed with a sports agent. It is just too much of a coincidence that just when the door was closed to Morris this fax mysteriously appears. Kentucky is cheating and always has.

The Facts

On May 9, 2005, Randolph Morris faxed a note to Kentucky head coach Tubby Smith stating his desire to enter the NBA draft. The decision was a curious one in that although Morris had the frame of a pro body and was developing pro-level skills, he hadn't yet accomplished much collegiately, averaging just 8.8 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game his freshman year at Kentucky. Many Kentucky fans expected him to leave early for the NBA career, but not quite that soon. This was especially true given Morris' earlier comments about his wanting to further his education at UK.

In the fax and in subsequent interviews with the media, Morris stated that he intended to retain his collegiate eligibility by not hiring an agent (which was allowed for by NCAA rules, see below), and went about preparing for the June NBA Draft by attending a number of workouts with specific teams. Soon, however, news came that Morris was particularly uninspired and unimpressive in workouts (a similar criticism many Kentucky fans had made about Morris' play at UK) and doubt spread that Morris would be drafted in the first round, if at all.

The 'Infamous' Fax

Link to Morris Fax - (pdf)

On June 21, 2005, Morris shocked people again when he indicated that he would remain in the draft, despite the mounting negative feedback from pro scouts and plummeting draft projections. As the draft unfolded the night of June 28, Morris was not selected in either the first or second round.

There was speculation that Morris might try to be picked up as a free agent with the Atlanta Hawks, near his hometown. A training camp for rookies was available with the team July 11-13 at the Hawk's Philips Arena. Afterwards the team would travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to participate the July 15-22 Rocky Mountain Revue. Hawks General Manager Billy Knight had arranged for Morris to attend the training camp if he chose. It was generally understood that if Morris participated in the camp that his collegiate eligibility was forfeited. There were many interested observers eagerly watching to see if Morris would show up or not. He did not appear.

Instead of pursuing his pro aspirations, Morris met with Kentucky coach Tubby Smith and he agreed to allow Morris return to school at UK. Said Coach Smith in a press release (July 11, 2005) to the media:

This decision left Morris in unchartered waters with respect to his NCAA eligibility, despite the fact that the NCAA specifically changed the rules in the 1990s to allow NCAA players to test the pro waters without losing their amateur status, per NCAA bylaw [Prior to the NCAA's changes, persons who declared for the draft automatically forfeited their eligibility.] Exception -- Basketball -- Four-Year College Student-Athlete.

An enrolled student-athlete in basketball may enter a professional league's draft one time during his or her collegiate career without jeopardizing eligibility in that sport, provided the student-athlete is not drafted by any team in that league and the student-athlete declares his or her intention to resume intercollegiate participation within 30 days after the draft. The student-athlete's declaration of intent shall be in writing to the institution's director of athletics. (Adopted: 1/11/94; Revised: 1/10/95, 1/14/97 effective 4/16/97, 4/24/03 effective 8/1/03 for student-athletes entering a collegiate institution on or after 8/1/03)

Typically those who 'tested the waters' either withdrew before the draft occurred (as the NCAA likely envisioned when they created the rule) or were drafted and thus forfeited their collegiate eligibility. There were many previous cases of players who declared early and didn't get drafted, but typically they were unknown players who never intended to return to school in the first place, and didn't have a legitimate shot at the NBA anyway, so they were quickly forgotten about by the national media. Morris was different. Not only did he express a desire to return to Kentucky, but he possessed a legitimate potential to someday play in the NBA (which indeed he later did.)

Unfortunately for Morris, although he expressed his desire from the beginning to retain his collegiate eligibility and he did accept some limited guidance from UK remotely, he didn't stay in sufficient contact to stay completely in the clear. While the Morris' intended to pay all fees themselves and to take advantage of the fact that Morris' father worked for Delta and thus the family was eligible for extremely generous flight discounts, they soon found that the NBA teams weren't so accommodating towards retaining eligibility of collegians. Many of the travel arrangements, gym fees etc. were pre-arranged and prepaid, and thus needed to be reimbursed at a later time.

Also complicating matters was Morris' dealing with a sports agency, SFX. SFX provided advice and assisted him in setting up try-outs with different teams, although there was no formal agreement between the two parties [and as noted in Kentucky's later appeal, Morris was not offered any of the standard services SFX typically afforded its actual clients (services such as access to nutritionists, a personal trainer, yoga classes, car, clothing etc.)] This relationship would prove problematic when the NCAA took up the task of assessing what exactly Morris' eligibility was and what, if any, penalty he might incur.

The Kentucky compliance staff went about sifting through the many details to present a case for Morris' reinstatement with the NCAA. As expected the NCAA drug its feet on the matter. But when the 2005-06 season began and no word came from NCAA headquarters, it became a source of distraction to the team. National pundits started to weigh in on the matter, noting that typically suspensions (for those under similar circumstances who 'tested the waters', incurred unexpected financial benefits which had to be reimbursed, and subsequently returned to school; albeit without going through the draft) were on the order of 3-5 games and were announced prior to the season beginning, not continuing while the season was taking place.

Randolph Morris watches the team take a team photograph without him

Not until December 8, 2005 (already eight games into the regular season) did the NCAA finally make a ruling on the matter. And it was not one to the liking of UK or Randolph Morris. The NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Staff admitted that Morris was eligible for reinstatement (due to the fact that there was no explicit written or oral agreement with an agent), but pronounced he could not do so until the beginning of the 2006-07 season whereupon he would have two years of eligibility remaining. He also had to reimburse a little over $7,000 worth of incidental benefits he accrued during the try-outs. [The Morris family had already begun the process of reimbursement by donating to the United Negro College Fund.] Essentially Morris would have to forfeit a year of eligibility and could not play at all during the current season as his punishment.

Kentucky officials (who originally had suggested a suspension of less than 10 games) were incensed by the ruling. Said Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart:

And so Kentucky did prepare to file an appeal, which they hoped to have completed and submitted by Christmas of 2005. However, before that proceeded down this route, additional information was provided to the Student-Athlete Reinstatement Staff and three-hours worth of conference calls over two days were made to discuss the matter (the latter conference call NCAA President Myles Brand sat in on). Based on this additional information, the NCAA quickly amended their earlier decision and cut Morris' suspension essentially in half, to 14 games, which given that Morris had already been sitting out the season, would allow Morris to retake the court that season January 10th against Vanderbilt. This was found to be acceptable by all concerned and the appeal was made moot.

The additional information cited was personal information provided by the Morris family, along with the original fax that Morris had sent in May, which UK head coach Tubby Smith had originally misplaced but relocated in early December. The NCAA did cite the importance of the fax in that it was a hard piece of evidence stating that Morris intended to retain his amateur eligibility through the process of 'testing the waters'.

This seemingly '11th hour' discovery of the fax set off a firestorm of media cynics suggesting that the fax was 'manufactured' or 'doctored'. Many rival fans and national pundits were disbelieving, suggesting that there never was a fax at all. This belief is still held by many today.


The idea that the fax in question didn't actually exist is a strange one to anyone who followed the Morris saga from the beginning [Or for that matter anyone who took the time to look into the early news reports.] The fact that Morris sent his intentions via fax was immediately known to Kentucky fans (at least those with internet access to Kentucky message boards) as soon as the news broke he was entering the draft. In fact, one of the major reasons why the Kentucky fanbase was upset with Morris was not necessarily that he decided to turn pro, but by the method that he did so. (i.e. sending a fax, rather than speaking directly to the coaching staff or at least talking on the phone)

Unfortunately, a press release was not issued by UK Athletics at the time which likely would have referenced not only the contents of the fax but the method of how it was sent. Similarly, the very early media reports made mention of Morris' intention to not hire a sports agent (essentially meaning he intended to leave open the option of returning to school) but failed to specifically mention the fax.

"Kentucky freshman Randolph Morris will enter the 2005 NBA Draft but not sign with an agent, leaving open the option of returning to the Wildcats for his sophomore season, CBS SportsLine.com has learned..." - Gregg Doyel, "Kentucky's Morris Eyes NBA Draft; No Agent Yet," CBS Sportsline, May 10, 1995.

"UK Coach Tubby Smith acknowledged that Morris was 'going to test the water." Morris is not believed to have signed with an agent. With no agreement with an agent, Morris can withdraw his name from the draft as late as June 21 and return to Kentucky next season as a sophomore." - Jerry Tipton, "Morris to Enter NBA Draft. Smith Says Freshman will 'Test the Water'," Lexington Herald-Leader, May 11, 2005.

"Morris, a 6-foot-10 center, has not signed with an agent, which leaves open the possibility of his return. The deadline for underclassmen to enter the draft is Saturday; the deadline to withdraw is June 21, a week before the draft. Underclassmen are allowed to declare for the draft and return to school just once during their college careers." - Michael Smith, "Morris Declares for Draft," Louisville Courier-Journal, May 11, 2005.

Regardless of this oversight in the initial reports, the fact that Morris made his intentions known via fax soon became apparent to the traditional media outlets and were remarked upon often during the time prior to the draft.

"[Bryan] Bartley (Morris' High School coach) acknowledged the odd way Morris informed UK Coach Tubby Smith of the decision to enter the draft. Morris left campus after the spring semester without saying anything about the draft. Once home in Atlanta, he sent a fax to the UK basketball office." - Jerry Tipton, "Morris 'Working Out Like Crazy'," Lexington Herald-Leader, May 22, 2005.

"Since the UK big man faxed - that's right faxed - a letter to Smith last month informing the coach of his intentions to test the draft waters, no one associated with the UK basketball team has had any contact with Morris." - Ben Roberts, "First Month of Summer Saw No Shortage of News," Kentucky Kernel, June 9, 2005.

"Morris, a freshman last season, declared himself eligible for the draft six weeks ago, notifying Kentucky coach Tubby Smith by fax of his intentions. Morris did not hire an agent, which would have allowed him to return to Kentucky if he chose to withdraw from the June 28 draft." - "Draft Roundup: ASU's Diogu Pursuing Pro Plans," CBS Sportsline, June 21, 2005.

"Morris, a freshman last season, declared himself eligible for the draft six weeks ago, notifying Kentucky coach Tubby Smith by fax of his intentions." - "[Shavlik] Randolph's College Career Ends After Three Years," ESPN.com, June 21, 2005.

"When Morris first declared for the draft, he notified UK by fax, and there were no signs that he included Coach Tubby Smith in his deliberations." - Keith Farner, "Morris Won't Return to UK," Lexington Herald-Leader, June 22, 2005.

"No, but he can be blamed for the childish way he handled his exit. Was he too busy to pick up the phone? Was he just so full of appointments with draft day suit-tailors, financial advisers and potential agents that he simply had to send a fax?" - Chris Johnson, "Morris Decision His to Make, Not Wildcat Nation's," Kentucky Kernel, June 23, 2005.

"And, frankly, given the bizarre way that Morris and his family treated Smith - infamously, notifying the head coach of the player's desire to test the draft by fax - it's easy to see why the Kingdom of the Blue has a bad taste in its mouth where the big man from Atlanta is concerned." - Mark Story, "Morris Could Use a Second Chance," Lexington Herald-Leader, July 1, 2005.

So the existence of the fax was never in question (again at least by people knowledgeable about the situation). The fact that people who otherwise didn't follow the saga (i.e. rival fans) as it played out at least have a reasonable excuse for their ignorance. However, the fact that so many in the media also expressed doubts about the fax serves only as an embarrassing black mark on their skills as a journalist.

As mentioned, the fax (including importantly the cover sheet which included the time stamp) had been lost by Smith and wasn't found until later that December. [According to a subsequent article, the fax was actually found by Smith and mentioned to UK compliance officer Sandy Bell prior to the December 8 ruling by the NCAA, however Bell had not considered it vital to rush it to the NCAA at the time.] The NCAA had actually specifically requested the fax earlier during the reinstatement process. "We had asked for it but never received a copy of it," said Wally Renfro, spokesperson for the NCAA. (Andy Katz, "Smith Finds Fax; Morris Will Return Jan. 10," ESPN.com, December 15, 2005.)

Although the NCAA publicly seized on the fax and noted its importance in announcing their reduction in Morris' suspension, the fact of the matter is that there was absolutely no new information revealed in the fax whatsoever. Other than the fact that the fax was first-hand evidence of Morris' frame of mind at the time, the intention of Morris to not hire an agent and to maintain his eligibility was something that was always known and commented on (although many dismissed it out of hand).

Sandy Bell, UK Compliance officer, noted in an article that the fax "really has become bigger than it was in the process" and described it as "overblown." Bell reiterated that the fax was but one piece of a large amount of information provided to the NCAA, including confidential information provided by the Morris family.

Regarding the validity of the document she received, Bell checked the timestamp with call records, checked that the message indeed came from the workplace of Morris' mother, verified the handwriting of Mrs. Morris against other documents etc. to satisfy herself that the fax was indeed authentic and the one that had been received earlier in the year. Noted Bell about the wild claims that the fax had been fabricated: "There was nothing secretive or nefarious about it. We have worked extremely hard to develop a very strong credibility with the NCAA, and I'm not about to put that at risk with a document." (Above quotes in article by Michael Smith, "Fax 'Not That Big a Deal' to NCAA," Louisville Courier-Journal, December 20, 2005.)


So with the question of the very existence of the fax put to rest, the real mystery is what happened to it in the intervening months between when it was originally sent in May and when it was rediscovered in early December of 2005. And if anything why hadn't the fax been provided to the NCAA earlier?

Based on statements by Tubby Smith at the time, it's not clear whether the papers were lost on a plane trip and later returned or simply got lost in a stack of papers on his desk.

But one detail about the case that has been severely under-reported (*) does call into question the timing of the fax's rediscovery, which has little to do with the NCAA (in fact it further cements the fact that the original fax indeed existed and was known by both UK and the NCAA prior to December 2005).

The detail is that on May 25, 2005 Tim Woodburn, publisher of the free local news publication the Lexington Snitch, had filed an Open Records Act request for a copy of the fax in question. (* - of the media reports I've seen after the fax was re-found, only Pat Forde and Andy Katz noted that the document had been the subject of an Open Records request).

This was a request that the school could not fulfill, initially claiming that the record in question wasn't an actual 'education record' which the school is required to maintain, and further even if it was, the document was shielded from public disclosure by student confidentiality concerns. This was appealed by Woodburn, but soon thereafter the school noted that the document was believed to have been lost or discarded and thus was unavailable. The matter was directed to the state Attorney General's office, which promptly investigated the issue.

In a ruling on the matter by Kentucky Attorney General Gregory Stumbo (dated July 7, 2005) the University was reprimanded for poor record keeping practices and noted that the record in question could be a valuable document which indeed falls under the umbrella of being an 'official record.'

In a particularly prescient passage, Stumbo's finding states:

"It [the fax] evidences a significant occurrence in the history of the University's athletic program and the termination of a scholarship player's financial relationship with the University, impacting not only the Athletic Department but other departments of the University, including the Office of the Registrar. Should Mr. Morris wish to return to the University in the future, the disputed record would be integral to the resumption of his academic career. Moreover, the record may have significance in evidencing compliance with NCAA rules and regulations."

But beyond the reprimand and orders to improve their record keeping procedures, nothing tangible occurred regarding the fax itself. As the Attorney General noted; with no document available, it's not possible to force someone to hand over a document that is thought to have already been discarded. As it turned out, the Lexington Snitch went out of business in late November 2005. Within two weeks of the paper's demise, the fax in question reappeared.

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