U officials pleased with NCAA ruling

by Todd Milbourn

Though the maroon and gold Final Four banner will soon come down from the rafters of Williams Arena, University administrators and athletics officials breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday as the NCAA spared harsh penalties on the athletics department — forgoing the option of banning tournament play this season.
University President Mark Yudof said he was “ecstatic” and men’s basketball coach Dan Monson said he was “thrilled” by the NCAA’s ruling, which, for the most part, is in line with the penalties proposed by the University.
The NCAA sanctions do, however, nullify all postseason games between 1993 and 1998, including the 1997 Final Four run and the 1998 National Invitational Tournament championship.
“Justice has been served,” Yudof said. “Today, we can truly begin to move forward, rebuilding our men’s basketball program and restoring public trust in the University.”
Jack Friedenthal, chairman of the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, said the NCAA seriously considered banning the team from this year’s postseason but decided that the University, by benching four accused players for a first round game of the 1999 NCAA tournament, had effectively banned itself from two tournaments.
“That was a solid act by the University that, in essence, justified our not going for another year,” Friedenthal said.
But, Friedenthal added, the University should be “embarrassed and ashamed” for permitting a cheating culture to exist for at least five years.
“The committee noted that the University did not discover the academic fraud through its own monitoring processes,” Friedenthal said. “And its thorough investigation after the discovery contrasted with its significant failure to monitor prior to discovery.”
The University will be expected to repay $350,000 in postseason tournament revenues, take away five basketball scholarships and lose six paid official recruiting visits over the next three years.
University officials banned the team from last year’s NCAA tournament, limited recruiting visits, reduced scholarships and overhauled athletics oversight in the wake of the scandal.
They did not, however, offer to give up the team’s Final Four season of 1997.
“We’re disappointed about (the NCAA voiding the Final Four appearance)” said Yudof. “But, it’s not unexpected and it’s fair.”
That season will be erased from NCAA record books and media guides as well as Williams Arena rafters.
The Big Ten will decide independently in November whether it will take away the 1997 conference championship and void regular season games played with ineligible athletes.
The NCAA report also reprimanded former University employees closely tied to the scandal.
Clem Haskins, the former coach who NCAA investigators said facilitated the cheating, is banned from working in an athletics-related position at an NCAA school until 2007 unless that school can “show cause” that he should be hired.
Alonzo Newby, a former academic counselor under Haskins, faces similar restrictions over the same period. Jan Gangelhoff, the former tutor who wrote more than 400 papers for players, will be disallowed until 2005.
Gangelhoff’s attorney, Jim Lord, said he agreed with the NCAA’s findings.
“The NCAA report appears to be thorough and just,” he said.
Lord declined to comment further due to an ongoing Justice Department probe involving Gangelhoff.
Attorneys for Haskins and Newby could not be reached for comment.
Rebuilding the Gophers
The sanctions mark the beginning of a rebuilding period for the team. And Monson hopes Duluth East prospect Rick Rickert, touted as one of the nation’s top 10 recruits, will become the cornerstone of a new Gophers era.
Rickert, a high school senior, has not yet committed to a college and is considering Minnesota along with perennial basketball powerhouse Arizona.
He has said the NCAA’s ruling would be a crucial factor in his college choice.
Rickert will hold a press conference Wednesday night to announce his decision.
The wait for the NCAA’s final ruling has hindered recruiting as a whole.
“The hard thing about recruiting is the unknown,” said Monson. “And now we know.”
Monson added that the recruiting and scholarship penalties imposed leave “very little margin for error” next season.
“Injuries and mistakes and situations that are out of our control now become very focal,” he said.
Monson said he was happy that players innocent of any cheating would be not be harshly penalized by the NCAA.
Friedenthal said the NCAA takes into consideration whether those involved in a case remain at a school but maintained that the NCAA punishes a program, not individuals.
“(The NCAA) has to impose various forms of penalties, regardless of the fact that the people deeply involved are, for the most part, no longer at the institution,” he said. “Otherwise there would be no penalties.”
Recent national scandals
Friedenthal, though reluctant to compare infractions cases, said that the University scandal is among the most serious it has seen in two decades.
Another case, often cited as a parallel to the University’s, erupted at Baylor University in the early 1990s. In that case, basketball coaches arranged fraudulent coursework for players transferring from two-year community colleges.
After a lengthy investigation, the NCAA ruled in 1995 that Baylor lacked institutional control and put the program on probation for one year. During that year, the team was barred from competing in the NCAA tournament as well as from competing on television.
At New Mexico State University in the 1990s, basketball coaches arranged fraudulent coursework and provided test answers for players. Coaches also enticed recruits with meals and entertainment when they visited campus.
The program received three years probation, a one-season tournament and television ban, and had team records vacated. The NCAA also eliminated off-campus recruiting for a period.
Perhaps the most publicized infractions case unfolded at Southern Methodist University in the late 1980s.
Players received monthly payments of up to $725 from football boosters in 1985 and 1986. The total payoffs amounted to more than $60,000.
When SMU officials refused to disclose what they knew of the payoffs, the NCAA came down hard. The school was banned from all competition, including full-contact practice, for one year.
The punishment was coined the “death penalty.”
The program was devastated as revenue, booster support and recruiting dried-up quickly.
The harsh ruling signaled to athletics departments across the country that appeasing NCAA investigators through self-reporting and self-sanctions might be a better strategy to avoid harsh penalties including intercollegiate capital punishment.
SMU was a repeat offender. And Friedenthal said that was the major factor in that decision.
“There were serious repetitious violations within the period of repeat-violator rule and really an ignorance of what had happened before,” he said. “It was on a different level.”
Friedenthal added, however, that should the University commit another major infraction within the next five years, the basketball Gophers could meet a fate similar to that of SMU’s football team.
“If we find in the next five years involvement in similar kinds of acts (the death penalty) certainly would be considered,” he said.
The University scandal broke in March 1999 when the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that Gangelhoff had written more than 400 papers for at least 18 players between 1993 and 1998.
The report came the day before the Gophers played Gonzaga University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and sparked investigations by the University, the NCAA and, later, the federal government.
In June 1999, the University bought out Haskins contract for $1.5 million, saying they did not have enough direct evidence of wrongdoing to fire him with just cause at that time. Haskins admitted in July 2000 that he paid $3,000 to Gangelhoff to tutor players.
In light of that revelation, the University filed a lawsuit against him seeking to recoup some of the buyout.
The $2.2 million University probe concluded in November 1999 and found widespread cheating in the men’s basketball program. A massive overhaul of men’s athletics personnel followed, including the departures of Haskins, Vice President for Student Development and Athletics McKinley Boston, and men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart.
The University pleaded before the Committee on Infractions in August that the sanctions imposed on itself were sufficient penalties.
And the committee, for the most part, agreed.
Unless the federal investigation turns up significant new evidence of violations or the NCAA finds the University misled them, the sanctions are final, Friedenthal said.
For now, Yudof said the University is optimistic about the future.
“This has been hard. I do look forward to moving on,” he said. “But we will not forget the lessons learned from this difficult experience.
“As the rubric goes, if something doesn’t kill you, you’ll be stronger for it.”
The public report is available on the NCAA’s Web site at www.ncaa.org/enforcement.

Todd Milbourn welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3234