NCAA penalizes women’s hoops

David La Vaque

After being found guilty of 14 policy violations, Minnesota’s women’s basketball program received a handful of penalties from the NCAA Committee on Infractions on Tuesday.

The committee found 11 major and three secondary violations committed under then-coach Cheryl Littlejohn, many of which were deliberate.

“This case was fundamentally about misconduct by a head coach that was revealed by courageous players who came forward,” said Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel.

The penalties included recruiting restrictions and the loss of scholarships for the team and two additional years of probation for the University’s athletics departments. But the team will not be banned from postseason play.

Minnesota’s current four-year probation stems from academic fraud found in the men’s basketball program in the late 1990s. Originally scheduled to expire Oct. 23, 2004, the University’s probation period will now conclude Oct. 22, 2006.

Among the penalties:

ï A reduction of one scholarship for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons, limiting the program to 14 scholarships during those two years.

ï Official paid visits for potential recruits will be limited to seven for the next two years. The University proposed a limit of 10 visits.

ï The start of preseason practice will be delayed by seven days, meaning practice this fall will begin Oct. 19.

In its report, the committee said Littlejohn’s “actions in numerous violations of NCAA legislation perpetuated an environment of noncompliance Ö The committee was troubled by the fact the University failed to react in a timely fashion to information indicating that violations had taken place in the women’s basketball program.”

The committee said in its report that oversights by the University and NCAA enforcement staff delayed processing of potential violations.

Littlejohn violated bylaws governing extra benefits, recruiting, ethical conduct and lack of institutional control.

The infractions stem from summer 1998, when Littlejohn coordinated reduced-cost or free housing for four prospective players. The coach also purchased four $15 fleece jackets for four prospects.

In August, Littlejohn indirectly provided recruit Natea Motley $200 in cash to purchase household items for the upcoming school year.

Motley, like nearly 20 percent of University students, did not receive financial aid due to a computer glitch, and she left the Gophers program in December 1999.

One major violation occurred after Oct. 24, 2000 – the start date of Minnesota’s initial probation – subjecting the school to repeat violator status.

The committee ruled Littlejohn arranged for a student assistant coach to direct mandatory pickup games with the team prior to the 2000-01 season.

This violated NCAA legislation regarding out-of-season practice, but the committee decided not to impose stiffer penalties.

“The committee felt this
violation did not rise to the level that should increase penalties and
sanctions,” said Thomas E. Yeager, infractions committee chairman.

However, Minnesota is subject to the NCAA’s repeat-violator provisions for five years beginning last Tuesday, the penalties’ effective date.

In addition, the committee requires the University compliance office to be notified about all prospective student-athletes who move to the Minneapolis area before they begin full-time enrollment at the school. The compliance office will then monitor any prospective student-athlete to ensure no NCAA rules violations occur.

As they did in the case of the men’s basketball team, University officials imposed several penalties on the women’s team prior to the committee’s decision:

ï Littlejohn was put on paid leave April 4, then fired May 14 after an internal investigation.

ù After the men’s basketball scandal, the University overhauled its reporting structure within the athletics departments.

ï The University cut official visit days for potential recruits and reduced evaluation periods, limiting the number of players the University could watch and the amount it could watch each player.

Yeager called the University’s “significant corrective action” a key element in the committee’s decision to hand down fewer additional penalties.

The committee issued Littlejohn, currently the women’s basketball coach at Chicago State, several reprimands. The university must show cause why it should not be penalized if Littlejohn is not prohibited from off-campus recruiting for a period between Monday and Nov. 20.

Further, Littlejohn will not be allowed to participate in the first seven days of preseason practice this year.

Chicago State must submit a compliance report to the infractions committee by May 15, 2003, monitoring Littlejohn’s ethical conduct in recruiting, practice and playing sessions.

Finally clear of two NCAA investigations and the resulting penalties, Minnesota’s administrators said they believe the athletics departments’ modified reporting structure will curtail similar incidents.

Outgoing University President Mark Yudof said the new athletics director will be critical to keeping the department clean for the duration of its probation.

“I think we’ve gotten it right,” Yudof said. “But there are no guarantees in life; you must have people you can trust. People who have it in their mind to cheat are going to figure out a way to do it no matter how many monitoring devices are in place.”