7:31PM EST November 16. 2012 - The NCAA announced Friday that star UCLA freshman forward Shabazz Muhammad has been reinstated to play immediately for the Bruins after the university "acknowledged amateurism violations" in an appeal to the association.
In a statement, the NCAA wrote, "The university required the student-athlete to miss 10 percent of the season (three games) and repay approximately $1,600 in impermissible benefits. The NCAA agreed the actions taken by the university were sufficient. Because Muhammad has already sat out three games, he is now eligible to compete."
Minutes after the announcement, Muhammad tweeted through his Twitter account @phenom15balla, "#FREE".
In addition to what the NCAA has called other "pending issues," the association has spent more than a year investigation three unofficial recruiting visits Muhammad made to two schools – North Carolina and Duke – that were paid for by North Carolina-based financial adviser Ben Lincoln.
The Muhammads have claimed that Lincoln has been a family friend for five years. And Muhammad's attorney, Robert Orr, contends that Lincoln sought approval from the NCAA before paying for Muhammad's travel and lodging.
Orr also said that Muhammad had no knowledge of who paid for the trips and that his father, Ron Holmes, completed all requisite paperwork related to Lincoln paying for the recruiting visits.
Orr told USA TODAY Sports that the NCAA has requested thousands of pages of documents, including years worth of bank records and credit card statements. He said that Muhammad conducted two interviews with NCAA enforcement staff and that Holmes and Muhammad's mother, Faye Muhammad, interviewed with enforcement officials in early November.
"It is worse than an IRS audit," Orr told USA TODAY Sports in a telephone interview Thursday. "You at least have rights with the IRS audit. I'm waiting for the press to realize that the system, which is supposed to be for the best interest of these young men and women, absolutely abuses them. It is just outrageous."
In an email to USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn elaborated on the timeline of the investigation. She said that the NCAA staff requested specific documents on July 31 but did not receive the majority of requested documents until September 25, followed by more information on October 10. She added that the NCAA staff was granted access to what she called "additional critical information" Nov. 1
Hours before UCLA opened its season Nov. 9, the NCAA ruled Muhammad ineligible because of what it called a violation of amateurism rules.
During Muhammad's recruitment, the NCAA informed schools recruiting Muhammad that there may be unresolved issues that would warrant further investigation, according to two college coaches familiar with Muhammad's recruitment. Some schools softened their recruitment or backed off almost entirely.
For UCLA, Muhammad, who played for Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, represents the crown jewel of a sterling recruiting class assembled to help lift coach Ben Howland's program back to national prominence. Greg Anthony, a college basketball analyst for CBS Sports who was born and raised in Las Vegas, told USA TODAY Sports that Muhammad is a "once-in-a-generation talent."
The following is the full NCAA statement:
The NCAA and UCLA have resolved the eligibility case of Shabazz Muhammad. UCLA acknowledged amateurism violations occurred and asked the NCAA on Friday afternoon to reinstate Muhammad. The university required the student-athlete to miss 10 percent of the season (three games) and repay approximately $1,600 in impermissible benefits. The NCAA agreed the actions taken by the university were sufficient. Because Muhammad has already sat out three games, he is now eligible to compete.
According to the facts of the case, which were agreed upon by the university and the NCAA staff, Muhammad accepted travel and lodging during unofficial visits to member schools. NCAA rules, which member schools create, state that student-athletes cannot receive benefits based on their athletic ability. NCAA amateurism rules are in place so that when student-athletes step onto the court, they are competing against other student-athletes who have met the same standards.
When a school discovers an NCAA rules violation has occurred, it must declare the student-athlete ineligible and may request the student-athlete's eligibility be reinstated. The NCAA staff reviews each student-athlete reinstatement request individually based on its own merits and set of specific facts.