The final shoe dropped in the University of Minnesota academic fraud scandal . But it was not as heavy as some Minnesotans feared it might be. Many of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's sanctions against the men's basketball program are adjustments in punishments the university has already imposed on itself.
THE CHEATING SCANDAL
Read the NCAA report on the infractions, listen to the NCAA news conference, hear comments from university officials, and learn more about the academic fraud scandal in our special section.
THE CHAIRMAN OF THE NCAA'S infractions committee, Jack Friedenthal, says the years of academic fraud committed in the men's basketball program are unacceptable.
"The University of Minnesota is and should be deeply ashamed of what happened," Friedenthal said.
Ashamed, not just because for five years basketball players turned in papers that were ghost written by an office manager
and her sister, and not just because the team's academic counselor coerced or intimidated instructors into changing deadlines, requirements, or grades for basketball players. The university should also be embarrassed, Friedenthal says, by the fact that it failed to uncover the widespread cheating; learning about it, as many Minnesotans did, through the Saint Paul newspaper.
Friedenthal, who is a law professor at George Washington University, says one of the problems that kept the U of M from detecting the fraud was the autonomy former coach Clem Haskins demanded over the basketball program.
"He had complete control and everybody was answering to him and him alone. And that can be a formula for this kind of disaster," Friedenthal.
The most significant sanctions imposed by the NCAA involve four years of probation, a reduction in the number of basketball scholarships available, and a cut in the number of university-sponsored visits to campus by prospective Gopher basketball players.
Of the various transgressions college sports programs can commit, academic fraud is particularly frowned upon by the NCAA and some analysts thought Minnesota might be in line for more severe punishment.
The comparatively light sanctions reflect satisfaction with the university's investigation, which was led by Michael Glazier, a former NCAA employee. Gary Roberts, who heads the Sports Law Center at Tulane University Law School, says Glazier and his colleagues have a reputation for helping universities respond to rule violations in ways that minimize NCAA sanctions.
"They seem to know how to navigate through the NCAA system very effectively," said Roberts. "They know the people inside the NCAA, they have a lot of credibility with the NCAA. I have no reason to suspect that anything they do is improper. But it does seem like they have sort of an inside track on understanding how to get through the system with as little consequences as possible."
Minnesota will have five fewer basketball scholarships over the next three years and paid recruiting visits will be cut from 12 to six.
Jim Dutcher, who coached Gopher basketball in the 1980s, says the cutbacks will put pressure on the U of M coaching staff to make wise use of the scholarships they do have to offer.
"You've got to do a very good job of evaluating the young men that you do bring in for campus visits. They ought to be recruits that you think you have a good chance of eventually signing," says Dutcher.
In John Hedstrom's eight years as basketball coach at Minnetonka High School, he had a first-hand look at the coast-to-coast recruitment of star players Shane Schilling and Adam Boone. Hedstrom, now an assistant principal, says reducing the number of official visits is not likely to hurt the Gophers' recruiting of Twin Cities-area players, most of whom can make unofficial visits since they don't need to pay for airfare or a hotel.
"What they're restricting there is bringing kids from out of state in. They can only do so many. In some ways that's logical because if your scholarships are being reduced, you're not going to end up bringing in as many kids, anyways," says Hedstrom.
Hedstrom says new U of M coach Dan Monson is making the recruitment of Minnesota players a priority in a way that Haskins never did. Hedstrom says that's appropriate since Minnesota is producing more first rate high school basketball players than it used to, with several of them leaving the state for distant colleges. Hedstrom says announcement of the NCAA sanctions will actually help the Gophers' recruiting effort by taking away a cloud of uncertainty and speculation what type of punishment would be issued.
"Now they don't have anybody out there negatively recruiting saying, 'Don't go to Minnesota because they're going to get nailed with this or they're going to get nailed with this.' There's no more speculation," said Hedstrom.
The U of M has changed all of the personnel involved in men's basketball, including players, coaches, and administrators. The NCAA's Friedenthal acknowledged it's had to punish the innocent successors to wrongdoers. Instead, the NCAA will take away some of the accomplishments of teams that used players who should have been academically ineligible.
Notably, the Gophers 1997 Final Four appearance and 1998 NIT championship will be erased from the record books. Gary Roberts of Tulane says taking those banners down from Williams Arena seems to be an attempt at public humiliation that cannot erase the reality of what occurred on the basketball court.
"The games were played and the score was what it was. You can go back and change the entry in a book somewhere but the reality of what happened is still the same," Roberts said.
Minnetonka's Hedstrom agrees the history can't really be changed, but he says given widespread publicity about the academic fraud, he doubts the university would want to brag much about those basketball achievements, anyway.
"If the NCAA had said it's okay to keep those banners up, I think I might have taken them down anyways," he said. "The point is why are you going to bring a recruit in a say, 'Look at those banners, look at the success we've had here,' when that recruit knows that the kids who achieved that, some of them - not all of them - were not going to class, were not doing their own work."
A lawsuit to recover some of the $1.5 million buyout of Haskins' contract is still pending.