NCAA panel to decide on basketball team sanctions

by Todd Milbourn

For University officials dealing with the lingering men’s basketball scandal, the summer was no off-season.
In July, former men’s basketball coach Clem Haskins admitted he paid former tutor Jan Gangelhoff $3,000 for writing players’ papers, in violation of University and NCAA rules.
And in August, a delegation of University officials traveled to Colorado to make their case to the NCAA Committee on Infractions that no further sanctions should be imposed on the program.
Haskins’ admission came in a response to an NCAA inquiry and confirmed a conclusion made by the University’s investigation team in November 1999 that the former coach was the only “reasonable source” of the payment.
Haskins had explicitly denied paying Gangelhoff on at least three occasions to University and NCAA investigators.
“I did not give her $3,000, no. I did not pay her,” said Haskins in a disclosed interview about the payment with University officials in June 1999.
Despite their suspicion of Haskins’ statements, University investigators couldn’t prove he made the payment because they lacked access to his financial records.
NCAA investigators were granted access to those records, and after they uncovered the check in question, Haskins confessed to the payment.
The check was made out to “cash,” signed by Haskins and given to Gangelhoff via former academic counselor Alonzo Newby in June 1998.
The revelation indicates Haskins might have entered into a June 1999 $1.5 million contract buyout agreement under false pretenses.
The terms of the buyout state neither party can sue the other. However, Yudof has said University officials would consider legal recourse if they feel Haskins entered into the agreement fraudulently.
Denise Tataryn, a contract attorney at Mansfield, Tanick and Cohen in Minneapolis, said, “You can void a contract if a party that ascends to it is induced by fraudulent misrepresentation by the other party.”
She added, however, any recourse is dependent on the specific wording of the contract.
Proving “fraudulent inducement” will require substantial evidence of Haskins misleading University investigators. And University officials have said they will make sure they have that evidence before pursuing the case.
“If we do go, we’ll win,” said Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel, at an August press conference.
A final decision on whether to seek return of the money won’t be made until the conclusion of a federal grand jury investigation into whether University officials and former players committed wire and mail fraud to ensure athletic eligibility.
Rocky Mountain hearing
At the hearing, held in a Colorado resort town, Yudof and University officials presented their argument that the NCAA should forgo imposing further sanctions on the men’s basketball program.
Yudof, who presented the University’s opening and closing remarks, characterized the ten-hour, marathon hearing as “quite sobering.”
The 8-member NCAA panel is expected to announce its final decision by mid-October.
The hearing was cut a day short when Haskins, Gangelhoff and Newby chose not to appear.
Their absence was expected given the possibility that comments made at the hearing could be used against them in the federal investigation.
Though both sides generally agreed on the alleged violations and the evidence of their occurrence at the outset of the hearing, they had yet to determine the “degree of culpability.” In other words, they had not determined whether the University’s self-sanctions went far enough.
After the hearing, Yudof said he was “guardedly optimistic” the committee will see the matter his way and determine that last year’s ban on post-season play, recruiting restrictions, scholarship reductions and an offer to repay some tournament revenue are adequate penalties.
Murray Sperber, an English professor at Indiana University and author of three books on the NCAA, speculated the NCAA will likely impose further sanctions.
“They might lose TV, more recruiting and more tournaments. I don’t think much more; unless amazing stuff comes out,” he said.
Sperber added that the severity and scope of the violations that occurred at the University make it one of the most serious cases of fraud in intercollegiate athletics.
“In the history of academic scandals, Minnesota’s is pretty bad. What makes it different (from other cases) is the level of corruption.
“Tutors write papers for players everywhere, but at Minnesota, it was systematic.”
Infractions enforcement
The Committee on Infractions, which heard the University’s case and is now debating further sanctions, is the enforcement arm of the NCAA. Most of its eight voting members have distinguished law backgrounds, a strong interest in college sports and volunteer their time in addition to holding full-time jobs.
During the deliberation process, Committee members “will get together — usually by phone — and look at the facts and the evidence,” said NCAA spokeswoman Jane Jankowski. Once a consensus is reached, the final report, including any sanctions, will be made public, she said.
Committee members, including chairman Jack Freidenthal, will not publicly comment on the case until that time.
Penalties traditionally levied by the NCAA in serious infractions cases include:
ù Banning post-season play, limiting recruiting and restricting financial aid awards.
ù Restricting television appearances over a specified time, often resulting in a significant loss of revenue.
ù Voiding games played with ineligible players from the record books. In the past 40 years, six schools have had their names replaced with “vacated” in official Final Four records for such violations.
Any further sanctions imposed by the NCAA would be subject to appeal.
The feds
Looming in the background of the NCAA infractions process is the ongoing federal grand jury investigation into whether University officials and former players committed wire and mail fraud to ensure athletic eligibility.
The joint FBI and U.S. Postal Service investigation is, at least in part, focusing on correspondence course work done by Gangelhoff for former player Bobby Jackson. The work in question permitted Jackson’s admittance to the University from a junior college in Nebraska.
Jackson has said the investigators took a handwriting sample from him.
Several legal authorities, including Rotenberg, have likened the University’s case to a scandal at Baylor University in the 1990s.
In that case, three assistant coaches were convicted of violating conspiracy, wire and mail fraud statutes by helping players recruited from junior colleges gain eligibility and scholarships by providing written course work and answers to correspondence exams.
In any case, the federal investigation into fraud at the University of Minnesota will likely take months to conclude.
But whenever that investigation comes to an end, and the NCAA renders its final decision, it won’t be a moment too soon for men’s basketball coach Dan Monson.
“We just can’t wait for a verdict,” he said. “Then we can move on as a basketball program.”

Todd Milbourn welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3234.