Sources: Syracuse basketball program under wide-ranging NCAA investigation
By John O’Brien | firstname.lastname@example.org
on March 20, 2013 at 4:36 PM, updated March 20, 2013 at 10:57 PM
By John O’Brien,
Chris Carlson and
Syracuse University’s basketball program is cloaked in the mystery of an NCAA investigation as the team heads into its first tournament game Thursday.
NCAA investigators have conducted face-to-face interviews of SU employees or former employees for at least the past school year in a wide-ranging investigation that includes the handling of Fab Melo’s academic eligibility and a 2007 alleged sexual assault case involving three players, two named and two unnamed sources told The Post-Standard.
CBS Sports, citing an anonymous source, reported Wednesday that the basketball team has been under NCAA investigation for years. That source said the school has received a letter of preliminary inquiry from the NCAA.
“The transgressions were described as both major and wide-ranging in nature,” CBS reported. The investigation also encompasses football but is believed to primarily involve basketball, according to the report.
When asked by The Post-Standard on Wednesday, Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross would not confirm or deny an NCAA investigation.
“We regularly have communications with the NCAA and our communications are no different than any other school’s athletic department,” Gross said.
The NCAA said last Friday it cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations.
The Orange faces Montana on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
In the past year, Syracuse basketball players Fab Melo and James Southerland were suspended for academic problems. The director of basketball operations, Stan Kissel, resigned in December without another job. He’s told The Post-Standard he resigned to spend more time with his family.
Kissel could not be reached for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Post-Standard placed a call and spoke to Director of Athletic Communications Pete Moore on Tuesday seeking comment from Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim. Boeheim did not return the call.
Last year, SU officials acknowledged an NCAA inquiry into years-old allegations that players were allowed to practice and play in games despite being in violation of the school’s drug policy.
“As we said last year at this time, we are collaborating with the NCAA as part of an ongoing inquiry,” Kevin Quinn, SU’s senior vice president for public affairs, said Wednesday in an email. “Given this process is ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Quinn said this afternoon that, within the past day, NCAA officials told SU that they “are not investigating the 2007 case or anything related to it. That matter was adjudicated and resolved through both the grand jury and student judicial processes five years ago.”
The NCAA’s probe into the basketball team’s academics coincides with a shakeup in the student-athlete academic services office that helps the players stay eligible. Three people in the department have changed jobs since summer 2011.
The university also has advertised a new position, assistant provost for student-athlete academic services, which would implement strategies “to facilitate the academic success” of SU athletes.
Quinn said last week that “the position was not created as a result of any NCAA request or required as part of any NCAA investigation. Rather, it is an effort in continuous improvement to ensure that, as we enter the ACC, we will have a seamless and focused effort to provide our student-athletes the integrated support that they need to excel academically.”
It’s unclear if the NCAA or SU has found any major infractions in these or other unknown areas. It’s also unknown if the steps taken by the school can ward off any penalty.
But B. David Ridpath, an associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University and a former compliance officer, said the breadth of the investigation and the fact that the NCAA traveled to conduct interviews signal that the inquiry is significant.
“Obviously you look at everything that’s gone on there,” he said, “there’s a lot of smoke.”
Melo was ruled ineligible last season for academic reasons. Melo could not be reached on Tuesday.
Southerland was suspended earlier this year, and sources told The Post-Standard that suspension was a result of the NCAA investigation into the basketball program’s academic records.
CBS Sports said the investigation “is not related to allegations made against former assistant coach Bernie Fine.”
An NCAA investigator was in Central New York in August questioning at least one former SU associate dean about the university’s handling of a 2007 sexual assault complaint against three basketball players.
The investigator, Meg Babcock Locker, spent two hours interviewing former associate dean David Potter at his home in Manlius, he said last week. Potter recommended Locker also interview SU professor and former dean Cathryn Newton.
Locker, contacted by The Post-Standard last week, refused to comment.
Locker’s questions focused on how SU handled the October 2007 complaint from a freshman who said she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus party by basketball players Jonny Flynn, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson in their freshman year, Potter said.
On Tuesday, Jardine did not respond to a text message. The Austin Torros’ public relations did not respond to an email or phone call attempting to reach Jackson.
Newton refused to comment on whether the NCAA interviewed her. But she said this about the alleged sexual assault case: “An arts and sciences student filed a complaint that was specific and credible, and that complaint did not progress in the usual way.”
The NCAA’s interest in the sexual assault case dates back to 2007 or 2008, when SU philosophy professor Sam Gorovitz called the association’s then-president, Myles Brand, and spoke to him directly. Gorovitz knew Brand from days when they were on a committee with the American Philosophical Association.
Brand had his head of enforcement, David Didion, call Gorovitz, according to the SU professor. Brand died in 2009, which might be the reason for the lapse in the investigation, Gorovitz said.
After Potter got SU to reopen the case in 2008, the university’s judicial board found that three players and one other student were not guilty of sexual assault but that they were responsible for conduct “that threatened the mental health” of the female student, according to The Post-Standard’s archives.
They were placed on disciplinary probation through the spring 2011 semester, ordered to perform 30 hours of community service, to attend gender-sensitivity and domestic violence educational programs and to be evaluated to determine if they need any further counseling, the archives said.
The case was also heard in August 2008 by an Onondaga County grand jury, which did not charge the three basketball players, the archives said.
Ridpath, the former compliance officer, said the NCAA puts a four-year statute of limitations on most infractions. But there’s no expiration date for investigating more serious cases of “gross, willful and wanton disregard for the rules,” he said.
“That would certainly be the case if they were trying to keep kids eligible,” he said of the SU allegations. Unusual administrative involvement in judicial affairs would also qualify as reckless disregard for the rules, Ridpath said.
It’s not all that rare for the agency to go back five or six years in such cases, Ridpath said. But the longer the wait, the better for the university, he said.
In 1992, the NCAA placed SU on two years’ probation, imposed restrictions on basketball recruiting and banned some post-season play for recruiting rules violations in its basketball program.
Contact John O’Brien at email@example.com or 315-470-2187; Chris Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 315-382-7932; Nate Mink at email@example.com or 315-430-8253; Mike Waters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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