Reaction from the 'Cut

A palpable sense of relief drifted through the University of Washington campus Wednesday afternoon, as the NCAA finally handed down their decision regarding Rick Neuheisel, gambling pools, boat rides, 'Failure to Monitor' and 'Lack of Institutional Control'. It was a mixed-bag for the school. They avoided major sanctions but were served an extra helping of humble pie by the NCAA Committee on Infractions - including another year of probation.

In it's summary of findings, released earlier in the day, the NCAA removed the dreaded 'Lack of Institutional Control' tag from the UW investigation, replacing it with the more-docile 'Failure to Monitor' label. While the Pac-10 - back in March of 2004 - could not come up with enough evidence to support a 'Failure to Monitor' charge, today's ruling by the NCAA is still a huge victory for both UW President Mark Emmert and Athletic Director Todd Turner.

"The University is extremely pleased to have this case behind us," Emmert said Wednesday. "We are also extremely pleased that the NCAA agreed with the University in it's finding of no 'Lack of Institutional Control'. We accept the NCAA's findings and it's sanctions and we believe they are consistent with the case that was submitted to the NCAA. We now have new leadership in place in the Athletic Department. We are confident that, as we move forward, the University Athletic Program is going to be very successful and one we're all very proud of."

Besides the extra year of probation, the NCAA also added an extra year to a non-use of boats for recruiting purposes, and also added another year of lessened official visits - from 56 to 48. Both of the original penalties were self-imposed by the University and agreed upon by the Pac-10.

Interestingly enough, the removal of the head football coach at the time - Rick Neuheisel - was also listed as one of the penalties upheld by the NCAA. The school fired Neuheisel for gambling on NCAA basketball and for subsequently lying about it to NCAA investigators. Neuheisel still contends that a memo issued by the University's compliance office allowed him to bet on college basketball, and has lawsuits pending with both the school and the NCAA.

"Red flags didn't go up for anybody, so I think it would be unfair to say that one individual out of everybody that got the memo should have had more or less knowledge of it. Nobody did," said Thomas E. Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association and chair of the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions during a conference call Wednesday. "He was not charged with acting unethically and we asked the enforcement staff point-blank about his behavior. We are not investigators. That was their call and we supported their call.

When asked about Neuheisel's involvement and his suit against the school, both Emmert and Turner directed inquiries to the school's legel counsel, Lou Peterson. But Yeager defended his committee's work.

"We do not make a decision on factors that our outside our purview," he said. "I can say without any kind of equivocation that any comments did not play at all into our decision. We have a very specific charge, and don't make decisions based on litigation strategies. We try to evaluate the information we are presented with and try to come to a fair conclusion."

The reaction on Montlake was one of relief and of moving on to bigger and better things. Since the probation will not end until February of 2007, there is still a lot of work to do for the UW Athetic Department. And they aren't rid of the NCAA that quickly. "It gives us a chance to communicate regularly with the NCAA in a prescribed fashion on things that are going on here," Turner said when asked about what will happen from now on regarding compliance. "It requires us to be vigilant and consistent in how me monitor our systems, how we impliment our systems and manage them. We have to report that to the NCAA.

"Compliance is an attitude. Compliance is really about people. If you have the people in place with the right kind of values, a lot of different systems can work. And I'm encouraged by what I've seen here in terms of people's attitudes and willingness to do the right thing. I think we are headed in the right direction."

"It forces the institution to do all the right things," added Emmert. "You are constantly reporting about these issues and they provide sharp focus on these things. The issue here isn't the NCAA. By the time we come off probation, we want to not just be in compliance with the NCAA, we want to be an exemplary model for the NCAA. We're happy to have them look at us, because we're going to do things the right way."

So what was it about the case that caused the NCAA to back off 'Lack of Institutional Control'? "I think they were pleased with the facts of the case, how the University presented them," said Emmert. "We were all in agreement about the facts of the case for the most part. There was maybe one or two things where there was any point of disagreement. I also think the NCAA was convinced that the University was very serious about the way to address these matters. Nobody at the University of Washington was trying to sweep this under the rug. They didn't see a renegade program. They didn't see a program that was out of control. They saw a program in which there had been infractions, to be sure, but they also saw that the University was not backing away from their responsibilities. And I think that impressed them a great deal.

"Those two things combined to demonstrate that the University was, in fact, in control of its Athletic Department."

But Turner implied that the school didn't see the additional sanctions coming. "It's a little surprising that they would do that, but I don't think that they are excessive and I think that we will be able to run our program with great effectiveness," he said. "We can now focus on football for a change."

"It was in the committee's view appropriate to extend the period of probation," said Yeager. "I think the penalties are appropriate to the level of involvement in the violations."

Speaking of football, how does Emmert see the state of the program right now? "Obviously no one is happy with the win-loss record of the football team, least of all the football team and the coaches," he said. "It's a little frustrating every once in a while, because people say, 'Gee, aren't you unhappy about the win-loss record?'. Nobody hates to lose more than the players, except maybe the coaches. Of course, nobody is pleased. It's still early in the season, there's a lot of football left to play. These kids are working very hard, these coaches are working very hard and we're going to support them."

When it comes to turning around the direction and the culture of a program, Emmert and Turner speak from experience. When Emmert was at LSU, the athletic department was on probation for basketball infractions and in 1990 Turner inherited a program at North Carolina State under NCAA probation. "The folks that work here do not want to be perceived as doing anything but what is right," Turner said of his current AD staff. "They are very eager to accept new leadership, to accept new ideas and to accept more accountability. It really helped improved the culture inside the Athletic Department there (at North Carolina State) and I'm confident that it will do the same here.

"I don't think there's going to be any more scrutiny, other than what we are going to place on ourselves. It boils down to the people you have in place. I think our coaching staff fully understands the expectations we have of them when it comes to running programs of integrity and by the rules."

"We now are focused on moving forward and building our athletic programs consistent with the values of the University," added Emmert. "It's terrific to have it all behind us, especially with the way the case turned out."


Dawgman.com Top Stories