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A Look Back at the U Basketball Program
By William Wilcoxen
March 19, 1999
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From 1993 through last year, men's basketball coach Clem Haskins has denied any wrongdoing and says he won't let the furor over academic fraud allegations keep him from coaching the team again next season.

Some of the roots of the current controversy may lie in the environment in which Haskins came to Minnesota. The university turned to him in the spring of 1986 to rebuild the basketball program after a different scandal forced his predecessor, Jim Dutcher, to resign.

THE U OF M MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM WAS COMING OFF AN UPSET victory over the Big Ten leaders from Michigan when they traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, in January of 1986. Minnesota's one-point victory over Wisconsin was its third straight win, but it proved to be the last for coach Jim Dutcher and some of his players.

Dane County investigators spent the day after that game questioning Gopher players and, on Friday evening, January 24th, they arrested three players who were later charged with sexually assaulting a Wisconsin student in a hotel room after a party. The episode made the front pages of weekend newspapers around the country and, by Monday morning, news coverage included the university's dilemma over whether the Gophers should play their remaining games.

News anchor: University of Minnesota President Kenneth Keller is to announce today whether the University will continue its basketball season. The University forfeited a game against Northwestern yesterday in the wake of last week's arrest of players Mitchell Lee, Kevin Smith, and George Williams on suspicion of sexual assault in Madison, Wisconsin. Basketball coach Jim Dutcher also resigned over the alleged incident. The three players are due in court today in Madison to face formal charges.
This month's news of academic fraud allegations in the men's basketball program left the university with only two days to decide whether four implicated players should play in the NCAA Tournament. University administrators opted to bench those players. In 1986, University President Ken Keller had only slightly longer to determine whether to finish the season. Keller decided the Gophers should play.
Keller: To cancel the season would be just to make a symbolic gesture when there was a deeper problem here that we feel we have to resolve over a longer period of time. So, rather than choosing the easy way out of canceling the season and having an end to it, and cynically using some players who we think are innocent, we thought we should go on with the season but not put this matter behind us. In fact, start to focus on what seems to me to be a much larger issue.
To get at the larger issues raised by the controversy, Keller appointed a task force. The university's general counsel, Steven Dunham, submitted a report that suggested coaches bear some responsibility for their players' scholastic, as well as athletic, performance.
Dunham: We're recommending that within the university, there be more-clearly set goals and objectives for the athletic director and individual coaches which take into account academic values as well as competitive records.
Jim Dutcher's resignation came amid criticism that he did not exercise enough control over the student-athletes who played for him. Even though the accused players were acquitted of rape, critics complained the circumstances reflected inadequate supervision.

It was in this environment that, on the evening of April 1st, the university announced the hiring of Clem Haskins. The next morning, Minnesotans were trying to learn more about Haskins.
News anchor: The choice was announced late last night. It's Clem Haskins, 42 years old, and he has been the coach of the University of Western Kentucky. To find out a little bit more about what Mr. Haskins has been doing down in Kentucky, we are on the line now with the sports editor of the Park City Daily News, Mark Mathis. As you're well aware, there's a lot of concern here with the academic status of our athletes in the wake of a lot of the controversy that's surrounded the team. Is he well known as an academic disciplinarian?

Mathis: Yes, I would say one of the strongest characteristics of his reputation as a coach has been in discipline and keeping his players in school and that kind of thing. He monitors attendance and grades and transcripts and that kind of thing very closely.
The damage which the 1986 incident did to Minnesota's reputation proved relatively short-lived. Under Haskins' guidance the Gopher basketball program quickly returned to national prominence. The team's graduation rate also improved. The University eventually gave Haskins more latitude over academics than other coaches had.

For several years, the academic counselor assigned to men's basketball reported directly to Coach Haskins. The counselors to every other U of M sports team reported to the head of academic counseling. University administrators have characterized the unique status of the basketball counselor as an experiment. U of M President Mark Yudof, who arrived on campus in 1997, now calls the experiment a mistake.
Yudof: I don't know when that happened, but my understanding was that that experiment was abandoned. Obviously, with 20/20 hindsight it wasn't a good idea. At the present, all the program's tutors report back through the academic counselor.
Yudof says the investigation into the current allegations of academic fraud on the basketball team is likely to last six months.