More Trouble in Minnesota

February 21, 2005

Southern Methodist University holds a special, and ignominious, place in National Collegiate Athletic Association history, as the group's most-punished sports program and the only institution ever to receive the "death penalty."

In one fell swoop, the University of Minnesota could become SMU's equal.

The university's athletics department announced Friday that it had suspended two men's tennis coaches with pay after concluding an investigation into possible wrongdoing in the tennis program. Minnesota said that it had turned over the results of its investigation to the NCAA, and that it expected the association to begin its own inquiry tomorrow.

University officials declined to elaborate on the internal investigation, except to say that the "alleged violations do not involve academic issues." (A report in the Star-Tribune said the wrongdoing revolves around money paid to two players for summer internships before the work had been completed.)

That Minnesota would go to pains to say that the allegations had nothing to do with academic work is not surprising, given that the university was the setting, in 1999, for the biggest academic scandal in recent college sports history. The NCAA placed Minnesota on probation for four years in 2000 and imposed a set of other penalties on the men's basketball program.

Two years later, recruiting violations in women's basketball landed the university in yet more trouble with the NCAA.

Minnesota is still in the NCAA doghouse for two cases involving major violations. So if NCAA investigators find major wrongdoing in the current situation, the university could become just the second in association history on which the NCAA imposes the so-called death penalty, which allows the association to bar a team from playing for up to two seasons at an institution found guilty of major violations twice within five years.

Even if the NCAA were to stop short of that, as it has on every occasion since it imposed the death penalty on SMU in 1987, any finding of major wrongdoing in the Minnesota case would be the eighth in the university's history.

That would tie it with SMU as the most-punished sports program ever -- right now, Minnesota is tied with Arizona State, Auburn, Texas A&M and Wichita State Universities and the University of Wisconsin at Madison with seven cases of major violations.

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