Thursday, March 6, 2008

NCAA Penalizes Long Beach State

Hopes for the future success of the Long Beach State University Men’s Basketball were high in April of 2002 when Larry Reynolds was hired as the head coach:

"In the last seven weeks, I've talked to people at all levels of basketball and heard nothing but good things about Larry Reynolds as a coach," LBSU Athletic Director Bill Shumard said.

"I had an opportunity to watch his team play and I saw a team that played tenacious defense and unselfish offense. It was 10 guys playing unselfishly in the true sense of a team." . . .

Before becoming an assistant at UC Riverside, where he was assistant head coach for 16 years, Reynolds played for the Highlanders and remembers playing against Ed Ratleff and the 49ers.

"I think a return to those days is just around the corner," Reynolds said.

Three unsuccessful seasons later, Reynolds found himself under fire:

Lute Olsen, Tex Winter, Jerry Tarkanian, Craig Hodges, Ed Ratleff, 24 NBA players, 14 All-Americans, seven NCAA Tournaments and five NIT appearances are synonymous with Long Beach State basketball's rich tradition and demanding legacy.

Not many are more familiar with this tradition than Head Coach Larry Reynolds. . . .

His glamorous tenure at Division II CSU San Bernardino earned him an office inside an architectural marvel of an arena. It also left him in charge of jump-starting a once proud LBSU program that was in hibernation.

Nearly three years later, amid a third losing season, the coach is as optimistic as a person in his tumultuous position can possibly be. Under fire from boosters and supporters of the program, and in danger of missing the Big West Conference Tournament for his third consecutive year, Reynolds pointed out that even the best coaches suffer hardships.

Unfortunately, the best coach who was apparently emulated by his assistant coaches was Jerry Tarkanian, perhaps the most legendary cheater in NCAA history. Last season, Reynolds led the 49ers to an overall 24-8 record which included both Big West titles and a visit to the first round of the NCAA tournament in Columbus, Ohio. Less than a week later, on March 22, Long Beach State declined to renew his contract, and issued the standard pleasantries which indicate that there was a great deal more to the story than was being reported:

"We appreciate the hard work and leadership that Larry provided," director of athletics Vic Cegles said in a statement. "However, I believe it is in the best interest of the university and the men's basketball program to make a change. We had a banner season, but upon an extensive review I came to the conclusion that a foundation had not been built to ensure long-term success."

The rest of the story, was, of course, a looming NCAA sanctions case, which had already hit the press:

Assistant coach Reggie Howard did not accompany the team to Columbus and was put on indefinite leave as the NCAA investigates recruiting violations at the school. The team's recruiting coordinator, Howard was credited with assembling much of the squad.

Today the NCAA had its say, [the full report can be found here] and it turns out to be a doozy of a case, with the penalties including show-case hiring bans for Howard and another former assistant:

INDIANAPOLIS---The NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions has penalized Long Beach State University for major and secondary violations in its men's basketball program. This case involves improper benefits, impermissible transportation and phone contacts, unethical conduct and a failure to monitor by the institution and the former head coach. . . .

The university’s 2005-06 recruiting class included six two-year college transfers, none of which were eligible for admission to the university or athletics participation. Beginning in May 2005, with the knowledge, encouragement and assistance of the coaches, the young men took additional classes, including correspondence courses, at various institutions. Some of the young men needed as many as nine hours in a short period of time to meet academic requirements, the committee said.

The violations committed by two former assistant coaches and the former administrative assistant included paying or arranging for payment to register some or all of the six two-year college transfers in classes, paying or arranging for payment of fees so that transcripts of the transfers’ coursework could be obtained, providing impermissible tutoring and transportation, as well as making impermissible phone calls.

Also, one former assistant coach obtained a correspondence exam for one of the student-athletes, allowed the young man to complete it without a proctor, then forged the name of his friend as the proctor and returned the exam to the issuing institution.

Once an investigation into the violations began, the two former assistant coaches compounded the violations by providing false information to investigators on numerous occasions. In addition, one former assistant coach asked a number of student-athletes to provide false information and the second former assistant coach asked his friend to provide false information regarding proctoring the exam. . . .

The committee also found that the former head coach failed to monitor the men’s basketball program. Though the head coach was aware that the six two-year transfers were deficient academically and taking numerous courses in a short period of time, including one of the young men taking four classes at three different junior colleges, the former head coach did not ask questions regarding their classes, sources of support or the level of his assistants’ involvement with the young men. He also failed to involve the compliance office in the monitoring effort.

The committee also found that the university failed to monitor its men’s basketball program in its recruitment of transfer student-athletes.

The penalties include many of the old standbys, including reductions in scholarships and recruiting contacts. They also include the following:

A vacation of all wins, including any recorded in conference tournaments or the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, in which the six two-year transfer student-athletes competed while ineligible. The individual records of the six young men shall also be vacated. Further, the university’s records regarding men’s basketball as well as the record of the former head coach will be reconfigured to reflect the vacated records and so recorded in all publications in which the men’s basketball records are reported, including, but not limited to, media guides, recruiting materials and institutional and NCAA archives. Finally, any public reference to tournament appearances and performances during this time shall be removed, including, but not limited to, athletics department stationary and banners displayed in public areas such as the arena in which the men’s basketball team participates.

This is the same penalty which was applied to the Oklahoma football program last year. It did not hold up on appeal. To be cynical, it probably will in this case, given that Long Beach State is not one of the big money programs.

Update (1) 6:44 PM

Many thanks to Steve Janisch, Assistant Athletic Director at Long Beach State for supplying the following statement, and to AD Vic Cegles for responding to my requests for comment:

NCAA Releases Findings on Long Beach State Men's Basketball Program

Earlier today the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions released its findings regard violations that occurred in the Long Beach State (LBSU) men's basketball program in summer 2005. In a press release from the NCAA, the committee cited improper benefits, impermissible transportation and telephone contact between student-athletes and former members of the coaching staff, and unethical conduct on the part of former coaching staff members.

According to LBSU Athletics Director Vic Cegles, when the university was made aware of the potential violations in October 2006, swift action was taken to address the allegations. In the course of the university's own internal investigation, the involved coaching staff member was immediately suspended, and two student-athletes were withheld from competition. The university also self-imposed sanctions on the men's basketball program prior to meeting with the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions.

"Our University has a strong culture and history of NCAA compliance," said President F. King Alexander. "No major infraction has been leveled at our university in over 35 years, and when we became aware of these issues, we move expeditiously to remove the individuals involved and remedy the situation. We have a no-tolerance policy for any coach who crosses these lines. We remain committed to operating in an athletics program with the highest integrity that reflects the broad educational values that our institution stands for."

The findings by the NCAA were consistent with the university's own, and the committee's penalties include acceptance of the university's self-imposed sanctions. The committee also imposed a three-year probation with limited restrictions, and the men's basketball team will be able to compete in post-season play every year through this period. Victories during the 2005-2006 season also would be vacated.

Update (2) 10:10 AM Friday

There is a good wrap-up of the story in today's Long Beach Press-Telegram:

In the summer of 2005, the Long Beach State athletic department was a dinghy without an anchor. The athletic director, Bill Shumard, had been AWOL for a lengthy period, there were small fires breaking out internally, and the captain's chair was still empty when he returned. Then he resigned.

And then chaos quietly ensued.

Larry Reynolds and his basketball staff had been retained by said athletic director, despite 21 wins in three seasons, as a going-away gift of sorts. It may have seemed beneficent - give the poor schmo a break - and it may have even seemed logical - leave the decision to the new men in charge.

But all it really did was give the coaching staff the opportunity to save their jobs at all costs.

There wasn't a president on campus, Robert Maxson having retired and the school a half-year away from hiring F. King Alexander. There was no oversight beyond an interim athletic director who didn't want the job and a department staff that was overworked, undermanned and weaponless.

In an effort to save their paychecks, assistant coach Reggie Howard hit the recruiting gas and did whatever he could to bring in some quick-fix JC transfers with eligibility issues.

Assistant Brent Bargan was caught in his wake. Reynolds conveniently looked the other way. . . .

"I'm happy it's over," Cegles said. "I'm happy for Dan and the student-athletes that there's no postseason ban and that we finally have a chance to move ahead.

"We live in a pretty forgiving society, and there are thousands of examples of that in the sports world. Teams go on probation every day and there are fans living larger than ever (at those schools). That will happen for us."

Here's what won't happen ever again. A basketball coach who alienates everyone on campus after two seasons will be fired on merit (Wayne Morgan) instead of being given three more tumultuous seasons and leaving the program bereft of talent and goodwill.

A coach who wins 11 games in two seasons won't be asked back for a third year, much less a fourth (Reynolds). An athletic director who has issues internally won't be allowed to make a crucial decision on his way out the door (Shumard). There won't be an extended gap of more than a year without someone in charge.

No one will be left to their own devices.

Lets hope not!

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