One portion of the New York Times' investigation into former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe's eligibility issues focused on a landlord's claims that Bledsoe's high school coach paid about $1,200 of the player's rent in a neighborhood that allowed Bledsoe to play for that coach at A.H. Parker High School. If true, that arrangement would have violated Alabama high school sports eligibility rules. It also would have been slightly icky, even if it's the sort of thing that probably happens all the time in high school sports.
The landlord, Brenda Axle, has since disputed the Times' reporting of her account, saying she received money from Ford a couple of times but always assumed the money came from Maureen Reddick, Bledsoe's mother. Now Bledsoe's family friends are chiming in and saying they paid the rent after all. From the Birmingham News:
Billy Fagnes, who is a first cousin to Bledsoe's mother, Maureen Reddick, said his family paid most of the rent on the house where Reddick and Bledsoe lived during his senior year at Parker. Also, Jerome McMullin, who described himself as a close family friend, said that although Ford found the family an affordable home, McMullin helped the family pay the rent during some difficult financial times. Ford did not pay any rent, McMullin said.
"They went through some hard times and I helped them pay their rent," said McMullin, adding that he paid a total of about three months of rent. "I took them to get food for them. There's a lot of things they didn't have and people stepped up to the plate and helped out. I never asked for anything or any kind of favor. I did it out of the goodness of my heart. Maurice didn't do anything."
"It was me and my family who paid it," Fagnes said. "One time, I gave the rent money to Maurice Ford because the landlady was running late and I'm a contractor and had to get to work. So I gave it to Maurice Ford to give to her."
Why give money to a coach to pay a landlord? That doesn't make much sense, but Axle (who, for those of you as confused as I am, is the landlord) said the arrangement provided an easy way to pick up the rent, because she often worked at the same high school as Bledsoe's coach, Maurice Ford. OK then.
It's all a little fishy. Giving a coach money to pay a landlord, when that could very easily be construed as the coach actually paying the rent himself, is a terrible idea. You're practically inviting people to assume Ford was paying the rent, right? If he isn't, then why take the risk?
But just because something is ill-conceived doesn't mean it's not true. In the end, it'll be up to the Alabama High School Athletics Association to determine whether that excuse passes muster, and whether any of the issues raised by the NCAA and the New York Times' report end up costing Bledsoe any sort of eligibility. Stay tuned, I guess.