Like a crafty child in trouble with his parents who offers to forfeit his birthday present in hopes of avoiding harsher discipline, the University preemptively issued a formal apology accepting responsibility for the Ed Martin booster scandal, at the close of the six-year investigation of its booster-club scandal. In addition to the apologia, University President Mary Sue Coleman erased all victories from Michigan basketball’s past in which the four ineligible players were involved, stripped championship banners from Crisler Arena and disqualified the men’s team from tournament play in both the 2003 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, as well as the 2003 National Invitational Tournament. Not only did the University’s concessions appear considerable, but Coleman’s address was filled with powerful condemnations of the previous athletic department and scathing rhetoric targeted against Ed Martin.

Now that the investigative spotlight is off however, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s new poster child for self-discipline and conscientiousness wants its Christmas presents back. In a Sept. 10 letter to a federal judge, Board of Regents Chairman Laurence Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) and General Counsel Marvin Krislov demanded reimbursement for expenses incurred from the booster-club episode from former Michigan star Chris Webber. They are requesting nearly $700,000 from Webber, who is awaiting sentencing for a criminal contempt charge after lying to a court about receiving money from Martin. Whatever the motivations for sending this letter to U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds, it clearly reveals that the University’s initial remorseful response was nothing more than an insincere publicity stunt intended to avoid more serious sanctions.

While the NCAA did impose further punishment, the NCAA limited punitive damage mainly due to the University’s cooperation and willingness to accept legal as well as moral responsibility for the actions of its employees. In her address, Coleman proclaimed, “There is no excuse for what happened. It was wrong, plain and simple. We have let down all who believe that the University of Michigan should stand for the best in college athletics.”

This letter compromises the sincerity of such statements. Besides abdicating responsibility for the scandal, the University is now attempting to pin the blame solely on Webber. In actuality, then coach Steve Fisher allowed Martin to gain access to Michigan basketball players and embraced the booster as a member of the Michigan family. While these facts do not minimize Webber’s culpability, they do reveal that the University should shoulder its share of the blame. Bearing these legal fees is an altogether fitting and proper punishment for the excesses of the early 1990s. While Krislov wrote in his letter that forcing Webber to compensate the University would “have the added benefit of discouraging other student athletes from making similar errors,” in actuality the fees serve as a stark reminder of the necessity of preventing corruption in the athletic department. This is a lesson that even churlish administrators should be able to digest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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