Connecticut Self-Sanctions, But Will It Be Enough?Posted by jstevrtc on October 8th, 2010
Today, the Connecticut men’s basketball program made public its findings and response to the NCAA’s allegations of “major violations” from back in May. The report was submitted to the NCAA on September 7th. Here’s what UConn said that its investigation found:
- Staff members made numerous impermissible text messages and phone calls to recruits,
- The program provided tickets or free admission to games to friends, coaches and other persons associated with recruits, and
- Head coach Jim Calhoun is not guilty of failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program.
The university volunteered the following penalties to its program:
- A period of probation encompassing the academic calendars of 2010-11 and 2011-12 — essentially from now until May 2012, a period of 19 months, and
- Loss of a scholarship for each of those two academic periods.
Calhoun, Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway, and several university officials will travel to Indianapolis to meet with the NCAA infractions committee. That meeting is scheduled for Friday, October 15th — the first official day of practice. UConn has asked that the meeting be moved to a later date.
The NCAA will consider the discussions from that meeting in addition to the 700-page response that contained the above findings and offer a ruling in November or December. Given the NCAA’s recent pledge to supposedly crack down harder on rules violators, the obvious talking point here is whether or not the NCAA will see UConn’s self-imposed punishments as sufficient for the crimes. The early returns from some of the more astute followers of the game indicate that they don’t feel the auto-sanctions will cut it.
Interestingly, Calhoun submitted his own personal response to the NCAA regarding the accusation that he didn’t foster an atmosphere of compliance at UConn. This dark cloud over Storrs first materialized with the revelation in 2009 that former team manager Josh Nochimson may have given extensive benefits to recruit Nate Miles, who signed with Connecticut two years ago but never played a game for them. When it was happening, Calhoun did indeed document his concern about the Nochimson-Miles relationship and took several steps — including alerting his athletic department to the situation and warning Miles not to accept anything from Nochimson — to thwart any wrongdoing there. In his personal response, Calhoun expressed his anger for being specifically singled out for major violations, noting that “Hathaway [the Huskies' AD] and the UConn compliance staff” weren’t even mentioned in the NCAA’s initial letter from back in May.
Just as interesting as the eventual final NCAA ruling will be the judgment that comes down in the court of public opinion regarding Calhoun. Connecticut ran into trouble with the NCAA in 1996 when it was discovered that Connecticut players Kirk King and Ricky Moore had received plane tickets to their respective hometowns while playing for the Huskies, an obvious violation. UConn had to pay back the money it received from appearing in the NCAA Tournament that year and its run to the Sweet 16 was vacated.
That was Calhoun’s tenth year with Connecticut. Even though the NCAA confirmed that there was no way anyone at UConn (including Calhoun) could have known about the ineligibility of King and Moore when they played those fellows in that season’s tournament, the penalties were still handed down under the NCAA’s policy of strict liability, and many non-UConn basketball fans in New England have nevertheless held Calhoun accountable. Indeed, even when the NCAA specifically asserts that they don’t find anything in an investigation that they could pin on a coach, these things still have a way of sticking with coaches, who seen as custodians and keepers of the programs they lead (John Calipari’s Massachusetts squad also had their 1996 Final Four run vacated even though the NCAA said UMass could not have known it was playing an ineligible Marcus Camby, who eventually admitted to accepting gifts from agents).
These current allegations against Connecticut specifically mention Calhoun, though. Even though he may have taken what he felt were sufficient steps to eradicate the Nochimson-Miles problem from his program, what matters is if the NCAA thinks it was sufficient. And even though Calhoun doesn’t feel like Hathaway or the folks in UConn’s compliance office should be dinged with any accusations of wrongdoing, his personal response to the NCAA is perplexing, coming off as if he’s saying, “I told them about it, too. If you named me, why didn’t you name them?” What he’s really saying is that if all of these parties knew about Nochimson-Miles, the NCAA can’t logically blame him if they don’t blame everyone, but in the end nobody should be blamed except Nochimson and Miles. He has a point. But when you’re specifically singled out in an accusation, it’s best not to start naming other people who could conceivably share the blame with you, lest it look like you’re throwing them under the bus as well. That particular section of his personal response does not make him look good, and, regardless of the verdict of any NCAA committees, Calhoun’s public image takes another hit with that sentiment and the recent allegations as a whole.
We’ll all just have to wait until (most likely) December for the final NCAA decision, but if the NCAA is consistent with its recent statements, they will probably institute penalties more severe than what Connecticut has volunteered. That verdict, and the changing perception about Jim Calhoun — whether it’s fair or not — will affect UConn basketball much more than will be initially evident when it’s handed down.