Hoping to avoid punishment from the NCAA, University officials announced further self-imposed sanctions on the men’s basketball team Monday, including eliminating six scholarships and returning at least $350,000 in tournament money.
Five other measures seriously restricting how coaches can recruit new players for the next four years were among the seven measures announced Monday afternoon in Williams Arena.
Vice President for Administration Tonya Moten Brown — who was charged with controlling oversight of athletics in the wake of last year’s basketball scandal — said she hopes the newest sanctions convince the NCAA to focus any further penalties on the program rather than current athletes, who were not involved in the scandal.
“We feel this sends a strong message. We do not want to see another ban on postseason play. We’re saying, ‘We’re willing to take these lumps, but leave the kids alone,'” Brown said.
The NCAA began investigating the University after a former tutor confessed in March 1999 to forging more than 400 papers for the men’s basketball team. A nine-month, $2.2 million investigation resulted in a 1,500-page report released in November that documented widespread corruption in the program.
The investigation led to the eventual departures of coach Clem Haskins, men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart, and vice president of student development and athletics McKinley Boston. Boston is still serving out his contract, which expires in June.
In October, University President Mark Yudof announced a self-imposed ban on postseason play for the 1999-2000 season. Monday’s announcement added further self-imposed sanctions, but it did not extend the ban to next season.
Minnesota will limit the number of scholarships it can offer student-athletes by six during the next four years. The team will lose two scholarships next season and four over the following three years.
The sanctions come before the final findings in the NCAA’s own investigation, as well as before the April 12 signing deadline for new recruits.
In addition, the University will pay back 90 percent of the money it received as a result of its participation in the 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1996-97 NCAA tournaments. The November investigative report concluded the University competed with academically ineligible players in those seasons.
The monetary penalty should amount to about $350,000, all of which will be paid from the men’s athletics budget, Brown said.
Brown said the self-imposed sanctions were meant to again show the NCAA how serious the University feels about the investigation’s conclusions. They are also meant to spur the NCAA infractions committee to take prompt action when dealing with the Minnesota case.
“The message to the NCAA is clear. We’ve been very hard on ourselves with the hopes they go no further,” Brown said.
Although Yudof banned postseason play for the 1999-2000 season, the new self-imposed penalties focus almost exclusively on recruiting. Beyond further playoff bans, coach Dan Monson said the threat of further sanctions worried him most.
“Any finality we can get with this situation is good,” Monson said. “The worst punishment for this program is the unknown, in terms of what other schools are telling recruits is going to happen. So this does help, as unusual as it sounds.”
Monson said he does not regret taking the Minnesota job last summer, despite the handicaps the sanctions place on his ability to rebuild the men’s basketball program.
“I’ve never regretted taking this job for a single day. I signed up for this. When I took the job, I knew there were going to be sanctions,” Monson said.
The key roadblock will be the elimination of two scholarships for next season, from 13 to 11. With nine Gophers returning and junior college transfer Kerwin Fleming signed during the early signing period, Monson has just one scholarship left to give.
The team will also cut four more scholarships over the next three years, meaning Minnesota will field a team with one or two less scholarship athletes than its competition for the next four seasons.
“I hope the NCAA will see our desire to move forward. We would very much like to get all penalties behind us, and this starts the clock ticking,” Brown said.
Brown said she thought the sanctions were strict enough to appease the NCAA.
“We looked at many cases, specifically the Purdue case, and as far as I know, these are as strict of sanctions as the NCAA has handed down, and much stricter than any other school has self-imposed,” she said.
Tom Moe, interim men’s athletics director, echoed Brown’s statement.
“We’ve been very, very harsh on ourselves,” Moe said.
Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected]