NCAA offers punishment that fits the crime

To end a story that was 18 months in the making, the NCAA handed the Missouri basketball program its punishment Wednesday. The Tigers will be greatly limited on the recruiting trail, but postseason play will remain a possibility.

Aiming to alleviate problems that arose from Missouri's recruiting practices, the NCAA handed down punishment Wednesday that limits what the coaching staff can do on the recruiting trail.

The Missouri athletic department was placed on probation for three years, a penalty of status more than any specific harm. More importantly, the coaching staff will not be able to travel outside of Columbia to recruit potential players for one year. The punishment catches all aspects of recruiting: coaches will not be allowed to scout or visit players in their hometowns, nor will they be allowed to attend any of the national basketball camps during the next 12 months.

The NCAA chose such a unique penalty – it had not been used since 1990, when the Illinois basketball team drew the same punishment -- in an attempt to limit the harm done to current players, but the effects on the future of the program is apparent. While the Tigers will still be able to invite prospective players to Columbia for official visits, the NCAA cut the number of visits from 12 to nine for each of the next two seasons.

Gathered with MU chancellor Brady Deaton, UM system president Elson Floyd, MU investigation leader Michael Devaney and athletic director Mike Alden, coach Quin Snyder said Wednesday afternoon that he thinks the recruiting punishment will not harm the Tigers too much.

"I still think we're going to be able to be successful in recruiting," Snyder said. "We just need to get people to come to Columbia and see it."

Recruits will be able to see it in other ways, as the punishment did not include any limitations on television appearances. With television exposure and the newly built Paige Sports Arena, recruits will still have some reasons to play at Missouri; they just won't have as much contact with the Missouri coaching staff.

Other outcomes:The Tigers will lose three scholarships over the next two seasons, starting in 2005-06. Missouri restricted itself from two scholarships over two years, but the NCAA felt that was not enough and added another.

In a teleconference Wednesday afternoon, Thomas Yeager, the chairman of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, said the coaching staff's repeated telephone contacts with a student-athlete enrolled at another institution were not sufficiently refuted by Missouri's response.

The player, in Yeager's words, "happened to lead the country in scoring the previous year;" the committee found the staff should have received permission from VMI to return phone calls to the mother of guard Jason Conley. The NCAA felt Missouri "wanted to enroll the four-year college prospect at the institution as quickly as possible, thereby making him eligible for most of the basketball season the following academic year."

While most of the allegations level by former point guard Ricky Clemons were thrown out, some of them were finalized, including Clemons' spending two weeks at a player's residence in June of 2002, before he committed to the Tigers. Floyd offered an interesting perspective on this situation: Offering that not everyone is fortunate enough to be raised in a two-parent household, Floyd said that recruiting a player with almost no family support, such as Clemons, was remarkably difficult. Floyd felt the NCAA should have flexibility in this area.

The NCAA decided Missouri "demonstrated a failure to adequately monitor" for NCAA rules compliance at all times. This is a lighter penalty than the "lack of institutional control" finding, which usually results in postseason bans, which other programs have been hit with.

The entire athletic department will be under heavier scrutiny when it comes to violations in the next five years. Although it would take additional significant violations to earn a heavier rebuke from the NCAA, Missouri will be forced to more closely monitor the actions of all of its coaching staffs.

In fantastic timing by the NCAA, the Tigers will open the exhibition season and the new arena tomorrow night against Central Missouri State. CMSU boasts two former Tigers: center Pat Schumacher, who averaged 13.2 points and seven rebounds for the Division II Mules last season after transferring from Missouri early in the 2000-01 season, and coach Kim Anderson, who starred for the Tigers from 1973-77. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.

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