U’s self-imposed sanctions inadequate

More than a year has passed since the Pioneer Press first broke their front-page story that led to months of investigations into the University’s basketball program and turmoil for the University as a whole. School officials will begin efforts to finally put the troubling affair behind them this weekend in Avon, Colo., as they formally present documentation on their self-imposed sanctions to National Collegiate Athletic Association investigators. University President Mark Yudof and general counsel Mark Rotenberg hope to argue successfully against additional NCAA sanctions. The University should brace itself for further penalties, however, as academic misconduct is the most serious of infractions, according to the NCAA, and demands a severe response to reduce the likelihood of a similar scandal ever occurring.
After an eight-month and $2.2 million investigation, the University found sufficient evidence of academic misconduct to fire, buy out or not renew the contracts of the officials closest to the scandal. The Pioneer Press had reported that Jan Gangelhoff, while she was a tutor at the University, wrote more than 400 papers for at least 20 basketball players over a six-year period. NCAA investigators recently discovered evidence that the head coach at the time, Clem Haskins, paid Gangelhoff $3,000, which the University suspects was payment for writing some of the papers.
The University has possibly solved the most painstaking problems by restructuring the athletics departments so that officials in the basketball program report to administrators who have no direct involvement with athletics. Academic counselors, the compliance office and the athletics departments will report to Vice President and Provost Bob Bruininks, Rotenberg and Chief of Staff Tonya Moten Brown, respectively. This alteration of oversight will decrease the likelihood of more academic misconduct in the future.
But the University’s commitment to punishing itself has been minimal. The open-endedness of many of the sanctions the University has either imposed on itself or has suggested reveal the institution’s inability to adequately punish itself for its failings. Yudof, Rotenberg and other officials have undoubtedly worked strenuously to discover — based on past NCAA precedents — the most appropriate penalties for the current scandal. Still, they naturally hope to get away with the minimum punishment possible.
In a press conference Tuesday, Rotenberg reiterated the University’s self-imposed sanctions: last year’s ban on postseason play, reduction in full scholarships for basketball players from 12 to six, recruiting restrictions and an offer to return up to 90 percent of the money earned while the basketball team performed with ineligible players. He and Yudof hope, however, that NCAA investigators will not find that last sanction necessary. The University probably will not return any cash unless told to do so by the NCAA.
This is unfortunate, as the University would probably not have earned any of that money if it had not been playing with the ineligible players. Rather than a simple offer, a promise to refund the money would be more fitting.
Rarely has a university’s self-imposed sanctions been sufficient to absolve the school from further NCAA penalties. The current situation — if we are to take the NCAA seriously — will surely prove no different.