Gophers’ fate now rests in NCAA hands

by Josh Linehan

Although the media frenzy over academic fraud in the University men’s basketball program has subsided, another process has just begun.
Tonya Moten Brown, chief of staff for University President Mark Yudof, presented findings of the University’s independent investigation to NCAA officials in Indianapolis, Ind., last Tuesday.
Brown then hand-delivered a letter to Yudof from David Price, NCAA vice president for enforcement, officially beginning the NCAA investigation that will end with final sanctions this time next year.
The letter expresses the NCAA’s desire to complete its investigation by April 2000. The University would prepare a response to accompany the new report before the NCAA infractions committee in June. Final sanctions would be issued six to 10 weeks after the committee meeting.
Possible NCAA penalties include further postseason bans, scholarship loss and indefinite probation. Forfeiture of profits and of games in which players deemed academically ineligible participated is also possible.
The ultimate penalty for any misconduct in an athletics program is the “death penalty,” in which a sports program is deemed so thoroughly corrupt that it is ended completely.
In 1987, Southern Methodist University was the last school to receive the death penalty, following allegations of widespread academic fraud in its football program. Though the program was reinstated one year later, the team has had only one winning season since then.
The NCAA is keeping open the possibility of conducting its own interviews, including with former academic counselor Alonzo Newby, who refused to speak with the University’s independent investigators.
Brown said she hoped Newby would speak with the NCAA or others to clarify murky portions of the report.
“We would hope maybe he sees the NCAA as more of a neutral party than previous investigators. In the sense that he has a story to tell, we are prepared to follow up if and when he chooses to talk,” she said.
University investigators concluded some Gophers basketball players were academically ineligible during each of the past five seasons, leaving the door open for the NCAA to retroactively forfeit games, including the 1997 Big Ten championship and Final Four appearance.
Yudof said he considered the possibility of forfeiture, but it was not his main concern when he announced the resignations of McKinley Boston, vice president of student development and athletics, and Mark Dienhart, men’s athletics director.
“I think it would not be a good thing,” Yudof said last week. “It would be largely symbolic. I think the report showed a systematic breakdown in procedure, and I was largely concerned with that.”
Yudof also said the overhaul in the men’s basketball program was not an attempt to appease the NCAA and avoid future penalties. He pointed to his one-year ban on postseason play.
“It was not a big factor,” Yudof said of future NCAA sanctions. “I wanted to do the right thing, but I was also trying to send a message of good faith. The chips will fall where they may with the NCAA.”
Brown said the meeting in Indianapolis went well.
“I think it’s fair to say they did appreciate the president taking aggressive action,” Brown said. “The findings of the report clearly warranted new management.”
Pending approval from the Board of Regents, Brown will become vice president of administration and oversee the athletics departments.
Brown said while she would not want the University to forfeit the 1997 Final Four, other sanctions might be in order.
“Certainly, I think forfeiture would be damaging, but there are rules we play under, and they exist for a reason. The University must compete fairly,” she said.
Brown also acknowledged the difficulty in taking over an athletics department soon to be searching for a director and rife with ruffled feathers over the departure of Dienhart, who was supported by all the men’s athletics coaches.
“It is a tough time to take this job. It certainly is a mixed blessing,” Brown said. “We’re going to start by having an open house with all the employees of the men’s athletics department. It should be a chance for them to vent, and I know President Yudof welcomes the chance to explain why he took the action he did.”

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.