If you heard a sound coming from Crisler Arena on Thursday, it may have been Michigan’s Athletic Department letting out a collective sigh of relief. After suffering more than five years of investigations, a self-imposed one-year postseason ban and the shame of a fallen dynasty, Michigan’s administration was able to find some sense of closure when the NCAA announced its sanctions for the University.
“I think there are some mixed emotions,” University President Mary Sue Coleman said. “For one, it’s a relief that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there’s disappointment. I am disappointed in the postseason ban because I do think that disproportionately affects young people who didn’t have anything to do with this.”
The University accepted most sanctions handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions – including a loss of one scholarship per year for four years (beginning in the 2004 season) and a four-year probation period – but it has decided to appeal the one-year postseason ban.
“We believe the additional postseason ban is counter to the core mission of the NCAA enforcement,” Athletic Director Bill Martin said. “Our current student-athletes (and coaches) were not involved in any way.”
NCAA Bylaw 19.01.1 states that, while considering possible penalties to impose, the Infractions Committee should “provide fairness to uninvolved student-athletes, coaches, administrators, competitors and other institutions.” A ruling on the University’s appeal is expected by the fall.
“Certainly it’s not fair for these kids not to be allowed to do certain things because of things they because of things they had no knowledge of or no part in,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “But life isn’t fair and we certainly recognize that we are part of a much bigger picture here as an institution. We’re going to support and be on board with every decision our institution makes.”
While the question of next year’s postseason ban still remains unanswered, Infractions Committee chairman Thomas Yeager praised Coleman, Martin and other administration officials for their cooperation.
“Universities are all about integrity, pursuit of the truth and accepting responsibility,” Yeager said in a teleconference. “That was done in this case and the Committee cannot support any more strongly the action that was taken by President Coleman. The University should be commended for getting halfway there.”
Since the scandal came to light in February of 1996, the University has launched a series of independent investigations into possible rules violations and applied self-imposed sanctions last November.
“We did the right thing and we’re proud of how we handled this investigation,” Coleman said. “We pursued it relentlessly even at a time when it was very difficult to get information.”
The NCAA accepted Michigan’s self-imposed sanctions that, among other penalties, included last season’s ban on postseason play. It then tacked on an extra one-year ban on postseason play, revoked one of its 13 scholarships for four years, declared a four-year probation and asked the University to disassociate itself with all players implicated in receiving improper loans, namely Chris Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock.
The University took a major step forward in preventing future violations from occurring in 2001 when it hired Compliance Director Judy Van Horn, whom Martin later elevated to the position of Associate Athletic Director.
“She is relentless in going out and talking to coaches and players,” Coleman said. “She’s exactly the kind of person we want in this role.”
Van Horn is only part of the education campaign to alert the public of the fine line between booster and rules violator. An entire page of the basketball team’s game programs is dedicated to NCAA rules and compliance. Martin also meets with the heads of various booster clubs.
Despite the list of precautions taken, dangers still exist for coaches. There will be a constant stream of blame aimed at former head coach Steve Fisher – now head coach at San Diego State University – who supposedly let boosters like Ed Martin get too close to the players in his program.
“Certainly as a head basketball coach at this level, I’m held accountable for those types of decisions,” Amaker said. “That comes with the territory and I recognize that.”