While the allegations accusing former Michigan basketball players of accepting $600,000 from former booster Ed Martin just resurfaced last week, University officials say they have known about this issue for almost a decade, forcing three sitting presidents to grapple with the situation.

Paul Wong
Former Wolverine football coach Bo Schembechler chats with interim University President B. Joseph White at a basketball game earlier this semester.

Former University President Lee Bollinger, who took over the presidency when the allegations were first made, said he was warned this issue could taint the University’s reputation if the accusations were proven to be true.

“I was told in my first week or two that there were unsubstantial allegations that significant funds had transferred from Ed Martin to certain players. From that moment till this one I have had concerns and suspicions but no conclusive proof,” Bollinger said. “If these allegations were substantial it would be a very significant injury to the University.”

Only a few weeks after Bollinger took office, the Athletic Department announced it had violated NCAA regulations for its involvement with Martin.

Bollinger said he took a number of measures to correct the problem and prevent future incidents from occurring, such as restricting access to the tunnel and removing the coaches and athletic director who were involved.

“My policy was to do everything within our power to get to the bottom of it – I’m sure that will continue to be the University’s policy,” Bollinger said. “We had an inter-investigation, and I brought in an outside law firm. We revamped the basketball program by removing the coach and instituting all kinds of procedures.”

The connection between Wolverine basketball players and Martin first came to light in 1996 when current Houston Rockets forward Maurice Taylor, who accepted $150,000 from Martin while playing for the University, crashed his Ford Explorer with several recruits and teammates in the vehicle.

James Duderstadt, who was the sitting president when most of the exchanges between players and Martin took place, was unavailable for comment.

In 2001, he published a book, titled “Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University: a President’s Perspective,” where he talks about the strains placed on college athletes and hints at why some athletes may feel the need to accept money.

“Today’s student-athletes are, in effect, employees of the Athletic Department, working at the job of athletic competition while being paid an amount just sufficient to cover their tuition, room and board,” Duderstadt said in his book.

Murray Sperber, a sports analyst and professor at Indiana University who has observed Michigan athletics, said he believes senior administrators at the University, such as the athletic director and president may have known the exchanges between players and Martin.

“$600,000 is a lot of money to change hands, and it could not be a secret,” Sperber said.

Although interim University President B. Joseph White has only been in the position for several months, he is now joining the list of presidents who have had to deal with the Martin factor.

White said he was not briefed on the situation when he took the position.

“I think the investigation the University did was completed several years ago, and I think the matter was reseeding into history,” White said.

White will be meeting tomorrow with other administrators to discuss the matter for the first time and formulate a plan of action. At this time, he said he was unaware of any next steps the University will take.

“Tomorrow and Tuesday I have meetings scheduled and we will be discussing what to do next,” White said yesterday. “I’m calling people together to talk about what we can do proactively.”

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