For what it called, “one of the three or four most egregious violations of NCAA bylaws in the history,” the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions banned the University’s men’s basketball team from next year’s postseason on Thursday. The committee also ruled that the program will be placed on probation until November 2006 and lose one of its 13 scholarships each year for four years starting in the 2004-05 academic year.
Michigan’s violations date all the way back to the early ’90s Fab Five era, and involved four former Wolverines – Chris Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock – who altogether received over $616,000 from now-deceased booster Ed Martin.
University President Mary Sue Coleman admitted that the basketball program deserves additional punishment by the NCAA, but not in the form of another year of postseason ban. She says that the University will “completely accept” the probation, loss of scholarships and disassociation aspects, but intends to appeal the postseason sanction.
“We’ve always accepted responsibility for the concerns raised by the NCAA and by the Infractions Committee that are displayed in this report,” Coleman said. “We own the wrongdoing, and we own the responsibility.”
“However, I have to tell you that I am disappointed that the committee’s actions will have the effect of punishing our current, uninvolved student-athletes with this additional one year ban from postseason play,” she added.
Yeager feels that all sanctions were needed, regardless of whom they affected.
“The Committee on Infractions cannot shirk its responsibility to the entire membership by failing to apply meaningful and appropriate sanctions against the University in order to protect the postseason opportunities of current, and as we acknowledge, uninvolved student-athletes,” Committee Chair Thomas Yeager said by teleconference.
The Committee of Infractions is an independent administrative body composed of representatives from NCAA member institutions and the general public. All members either have experience in athletic departments or law.
Another stipulation in Michigan’s punishment will be completely disassociating itself from the four players for the next 10 years – the largest disassociation ever handed out by the NCAA. Under the disassociation, Michigan cannot receive any assistance (including financial) from the quartet and is barred from giving them any benefit or privilege, either directly or indirectly, that is not available to the general public. The NCAA also expects the University to implement other actions to eliminate their involvement in the athletic program, and completely remove them from all University records.
Last November, the University self-imposed a number of penalties that went into effect in the 2002-03 season. Besides banning itself from any 2003 postseason play and placing itself on two years of probation, Michigan basically erased all existence of the four aforementioned players by forfeiting 112 regular season and tournament games which they took part in, removing four banners from Crisler Arena and eliminating all records of the quartet in any printed materials. Michigan also returned the $450,000 earned from postseason appearances in the ’90s.
“Although the self-imposed penalties are significant and appropriate, as mitigated for the institution’s cooperation and efforts to uncover the facts, as well as the time factor of the time of the violation, the committee concluded that additional penalties are warranted,” Yeager said.
Many Michigan faithfuls share Coleman’s displeasure with the postseason ban, but Yeager says it could have been much worse.
“A two-year postseason ban isn’t the worst that could’ve happened by any stretch,” Yeager said. “When the committee evaluated all these factors, and gave sufficient weight to the University’s cooperation, mitigation, age of the case, self-imposed penalties, we felt it was a two-year case in which one has already been served.”
If the appeal fails, the 2003-04 season will be Michigan’s second straight campaign with a postseason ban. But, according to point guard Daniel Horton – who will be a sophomore next season – the team remains optimistic, and no one has any intentions to leave the program.
“Everybody’s coming back (for next season),” Horton said. “I look at (the possible postseason ban) as another challenge. We can show tremendous character if we are able to overcome this and still have a great season.”
Michigan’s postseason ban includes both the NCAA and NIT tournaments, but the Wolverines are eligible to play in the Big Ten Tournament.
Most of these violations took place while Steve Fisher – currently head coach at San Diego State – held the head coaching position at Michigan. The NCAA said there were many “red flags” that Fisher should have picked up on during the time, but found no wrongdoing by the coach.
“There was no direct evidence that (Fisher) was involved in the violations. Hence there’s no penalty,” Yeager said.
In July, Webber will be on trial for obstruction of justice and lying to a federal grand jury about his relationship with Martin.