U presents women’s hoops inquiry results to NCAA infractions panel

by Brad Unangst

The Gophers women’s basketball team has been on a roller coaster ride since last year’s 1-15 Big Ten record.

After posting a 22-8 overall record this season and going to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament for the first time in eight years, the team sank back into disappointment when coach Brenda Oldfield accepted the University of Maryland’s coaching position after one year at Minnesota.

The team went from elation – after cracking the Associated Press Top 25 Women’s College Basketball Poll – to disbelief, after the announcement the University planned to merge the men’s and women’s athletics departments, ending 29 years of separate operation.

And now the team is bracing for one final stretch of bumpy track before the ride stops: possible NCAA penalties that could shut down the program for two years as a result of a self-investigation into rule violations committed by former coach Cheryl Littlejohn.

On Saturday, a group of University officials, including University President Mark Yudof and women’s athletics director Chris Voelz, appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to present the investigation’s findings and the self-imposed penalties placed on the women’s program.

“The committee gave a good thorough process for both the University and for Littlejohn,” Voelz said. “It was very comprehensive.”

The committee will make a final ruling in six to eight weeks on whether to further penalize the program, said Deputy General Counsel Bill Donohue, who also appeared before the committee.

According to a report issued following the March 2000 investigation, Littlejohn committed 12 NCAA rule violations.

The violations include giving $200 to $300 to a player for the purchase of items for the athlete’s apartment and forcing “mandatory” pickup games outside the NCAA’s 20-hour limit on weekly practice time. She was also found interfering with an earlier University investigation of summer housing infractions for prospective student-athletes by instructing players to lie when questioned about it.

Donohue said the group, which included University compliance officer Frank Kara, faculty athletics representative Linda Brady and attorney Michael Glazier, hopes the
self-imposed penalties will be seen as evidence the University imposed sufficient corrective action.

“We’re hoping that the committee will impose upon us the penalties we’ve imposed upon our self,” Donohue said, “simply adopt our penalties as their acceptable penalties.”

The self-imposed penalties began with firing Littlejohn in May. They also included reducing official visits and evaluation days of potential recruits, increased monitoring of rule compliance for coaches, players and staff, and the addition of an assistant compliance director to help implement the monitoring.

“If they do punish us or add to the penalty, we hope they will only slightly add to the (self-imposed) penalties,” Donohue said.

The additional NCAA penalties could include further recruiting restrictions, reducing athletics scholarships and eliminating the women’s basketball program for two years under the repeat-violator rule.

According to the NCAA rule, the “death penalty” can be applied to an institution if a major rule infraction occurs during a probation period stemming from a prior violation.

In October 2000, the University was placed on four-year probation following the men’s basketball academic fraud violations committed under former coach Clem Haskins.

The University group said the NCAA committee should not impose the death penalty because the investigation found the violations occurred before October 2000.

Voelz said it would be inappropriate at this time to speculate on how the committee might rule.

“It is very remote that it would be a permanent kind of penalty.”

Brad Unangst welcomes comments at [email protected]