Probing Afterthoughts - <EM>Editorial</EM>

What to make of LSU's findings in the recently completed in-house investigation.

LSU has signed, sealed and delivered a report to the NCAA on its probe into allegations of academic impropriety involving student athletes and the university's Academic Center for Student Athletes (ACSA). After turning up five instances of what Chancellor Mark Emmert and school official consider "secondary" violations involving football players, the waiting begins to see what, if any, response will come from the policing body of college athletics.

 

The question everyone wants answered now is what will the NCAA have to say about LSU's offenses. Are they serious enough to warrant a significant penalty - like scholarship losses, post-season prohibition or a ban on television appearances? Even if they aren't deemed serious individually, are they compounded because of the existing NCAA probation on LSU for violations in the recruitment of Lester Earl?

 

There is no crystal ball that can foresee what the NCAA enforcement committee will do after reviewing LSU's report, but Emmert concedes the most likely scenario will probably include some degree of follow-up investigation from an NCAA investigator. In most incidents of a college self-reporting its violations, the NCAA will send someone to verify the information and often conduct another set of interviews.

 

In LSU's case, there is a chance the NCAA may send Diane Dennis back to Baton Rouge to handle this. She is the NCAA representative who came to campus in the spring to oversee some of the interviews LSU officials conducted in its internal investigation. Her familiarity with the case could bode well for a timely conclusion to the NCAA's time at LSU.

 

Emmert, athletics director Skip Bertman and other LSU representatives traveled to the Indianapolis headquarters of the NCAA in May to keep the enforcement panel up to speed on their in-house probe. Hopefully, LSU's efforts to be forthright with the NCAA throughout the process will pay off when it matters most.

 

Worth noting is that the NCAA has essentially issued a ruling relative to one of the five violations LSU is reporting.

 

The university admitted former ACSA head Karla Lemoine and director of football operations Sam Nader arranged free tutoring for Nate Livings when he had not yet qualified to enroll. LSU chose to declare Livings ineligible, reassigned Lemoine to the Basic Sciences department, and restricted Nader's access to incoming freshmen.

 

The NCAA ended up clearing Livings for participation in the 2002 season since the cost of his tutoring was under $100. He donated $40 to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank and is currently training at defensive end in fall camp.

 

Emmert contends LSU will not be denied scholarships, bowl game participation or TV appearances since the violations did not give the football team a competitive edge or advantage in recruiting. But what the NCAA may have to determine is whether the improper academic assistance LSU admits to giving to the athletes allowed them to remain eligible, and therefore created a competitive advantage for the Tigers.

 

Furthermore, the NCAA could decide to probe further into the claims of kinesiology professor Tiffany Mayne and former graduate student Caroline Owen. Both are parties to a suit against LSU that says they were retaliated against when they brought forward evidence of plagiarism and improper tutoring of student-athletes.

 

LSU's report dismisses Mayne's claims that ten athletes received extra-credit for taking part in an improper study session after the 2000 fall semester. The university maintains there were only five or six players at the session, and the session was above-board since all the athletes in question are learning disabled.

 

In all, LSU denies 25 allegations that were classified as violations and details these in its report to the NCAA.

 

Has LSU been straightforward throughout its internal investigation and provided the public with all of the information pertinent to NCAA violations? It's a difficult task for universities to keep doors open in matters such as this, since federal law requires the privacy of students be ensured in such probes and civil liability can result from improperly handled human resource issues.

Ultimately, the NCAA's findings will determine whether LSU had reason to be optimistic about the consequences for its transgressions.

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