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The Beginning of the End
By Michael Khoo
October 27, 1999
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The college basketball season hasn't started, but the University of Minnesota Gophers already know they won't make the Final Four next spring. University officials are prohibiting the mens' basketball team from postseason play for one year. The decision comes in anticipation of an independent investigation into charges of academic misconduct in the program. The results of the investigation could prompt even stiffer penalties from the University and the NCAA.
More Information
Hear University of Minnesota President Mark Yudof announce the sanctions.

See background on the history of the scandal.

ALLEGATIONS OF ACADEMIC FRAUD first erupted last March, on the eve of the University's first-round appearance in the NCAA tournament. This year, there will be no such appearance. In response to former tutor Jan Gangelhoff's claim that she had prepared several hundred assignments for basketball players, University president Mark Yudof declared the team ineligible for postseason play this year. The move comes four months after the U bought out former coach Clem Haskins' contract for roughly $1.5 million. Although an independent investigation of the charges is ongoing, Yudof says he chose to act pre-emptively so that current players and new head coach Dan Monson would know where they stand prior to the beginning of this year's season.
Yudof: It was almost inevitable that sanctions at least at this level would be imposed anyhow. And Dan is a great coach, came in under some difficult circumstances. I'm trying to make his life a little easier, make it a little easier in his interactions with the team, boost the morale a little bit. I think, frankly, that's the primary reason.
In addition to the ban on postseason appearances, Yudof said the university would place the mens' basketball program on NCAA probation for an unspecified period of time. The probation would include more frequent and extensive compliance checks. And additional sanctions could be coming. Yudof says once the investigation is complete sometime next month, he expects further disciplinary action from the university and the NCAA. That could include financial penalties or a reduction in the basketball scholarships the school is allowed to award. McKinley Boston is the University's vice president for student development and athletics. He says he is most concerned about the loss of scholarships.
Boston: I don't think there's any doubt that eventually that will come. And how many over what long a period of time will, you know, hurt programs more than anything. You know, because if you can't recruit and you don't have scholarships, it's tough to win.
Even without additional sanctions, the university may struggle with identifying new recruits. Murray Sperber is a professor of american studies at Indiana University and author of "Onward to Victory: The Crises that Shaped College Sports." He says the fraud issue tarnishes the basketball program, which competing schools can use to their advantage.
Sperber: You better believe that other coaches are going to point it out. And, you know, they're going to say to the parents of recruits, "You're kids won't get much of an education at Minnesota," and that sort of thing; not that they're getting great educations at their schools. So it puts you in the hole a little bit, but other schools have recovered. And depending on how good a coach this guy Monson is, they could be back pretty soon.
Coach Monson says he recognizes the difficulties ahead in rebuilding the program. But he says there's also a certain amount of relief in finally knowing where the team stands - at least for this season.
Monson: Certainly we knew this day would come. And for, I think, our program and staff and our team, it's the beginning of the end. And we're excited to be able to move forward a little bit and to be able to at least come to grips with what's going to go on and deal with it and move forward. And I think our kids are anxious to do that, and I think our staff is as well.
Despite the gloomy news, the mens' basketball team turned out for practice as scheduled. Players expressed disappointment with the decision, including junior J.B. Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff says exclusion from postseason tournaments cuts at the heart of why he plays basketball.
Bickerstaff: Everybody wants to be a champion. You wouldn't come here and practice and spend this much time, go to school, work hard, individual things like that, trying to get better. If you didn't want to be a champion. And it's kind of devastating to just know that you don't have a chance, you know, to compete at that level.
The prohibition on postseason play, however, does not include the Big Ten tournament, which is considered part of the regular season. Bickerstaff says he and his teammates will concentrate on that championship when seeking motivation to compete.