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Friday, October 8, 2010
UConn admits to major NCAA violations

ESPN.com news services

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The University of Connecticut says its men's basketball program committed major NCAA recruiting violations. The school has imposed its own sanctions, including two years' probation and a loss of one scholarship for the next two seasons.

But the university says the evidence does not support the NCAA allegation that coach Jim Calhoun -- who has won two national titles with the Huskies -- failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance.

In a report released Friday, the school acknowledges its basketball staff made impermissible telephone calls and text messages as cited by the NCAA in a May report that followed a 15-month investigation. It also admits it improperly provided free game tickets to high school coaches and others.

A hearing is set for Oct. 15 before the NCAA infractions committee, which could accept UConn's decision or impose additional penalties.

"I am deeply disappointed the university is in this position," University of Connecticut president Philip E. Austin said in a statement. "It is clear mistakes have been made. This is a serious matter and we have worked in full cooperation with the NCAA. We look forward to fully resolving these issues and restoring our men's basketball program to a level of unquestioned integrity."

The allegations stem from the recruitment of former player Nate Miles, who was expelled from UConn in October 2008 without ever playing a game for the Huskies. He was charged with violating a restraining order in a case involving a woman who claimed he assaulted her.

Calhoun
Calhoun

The NCAA and the school have been investigating the program since shortly after a report by Yahoo! Sports in March 2009 that former team manager Josh Nochimson helped guide Miles to Connecticut, giving him lodging, transportation, meals and representation.

As a former team manager, Nochimson is considered a representative of UConn's athletic interests by the NCAA and prohibited from having contact with Miles or giving him anything of value.

The school said it found that the basketball staff exchanged more than 1,400 calls and 1,100 text messages with Nochimson between June 2005 and December 2008.

The responses, totaling more than 700 pages, were given to the NCAA on Sept. 7 but made public Friday after the school blacked out a significant number of items to comply with federal education privacy laws.

A former chairmain of the NCAA infractions committee said Connecticut's response and sanctions a week before its scheduled hearing in Indianapolis won't be a surprise to the panel.

Tom Yeager, the Colonial Athletic Association conference commissioner and former infractions panel chair, said the committee will need to make sure that the school doesn't normally only carry 11 players and that the reduction is a real penalty.

Yeager also said by reducing scholarships now there is a chance to see it have weight with the upcoming November early signing period. He also said that the two-year probation that UConn put on itself "won't carry any clout with the committee on infractions."

"Reducing scholarship or taking a team out of postseason, those have real substance, but the committee isn't impressed by just saying they're on probation,'' Yeager told ESPN.com's Andy Katz. "That doesn't carry a lot of juice.''

The biggest blemish on the program until now came in 1996, when UConn was stripped of its NCAA tournament run to the regional semifinals and ordered to return $90,970 in tournament revenue because two players accepted plane tickets from a sports agent.

But this is the first time the program has received a letter from the NCAA accusing the school of major violations. The case has no impact on the other athletic programs at UConn, such as its national champion women's basketball team.

In the May report, UConn was cited as an institution for not adequately monitoring "the conduct and administration of the men's basketball staff in the areas of: telephone records, representatives of the institution's athletics interests; and, complimentary admissions or discretionary tickets." The school acknowledged that violation, but said the NCAA has agreed to reduce the time period for that violation from four years to two, spanning 2007-09.

Among the allegations against UConn is that staff members Beau Archibald and Patrick Sellers provided false and misleading information to NCAA investigators. Sellers, an assistant coach, and Archibald, who served as director of basketball operations, have resigned. They and Calhoun filed their own responses to the NCAA.

Calhoun's response says he was not involved with the vast majority of the improper benefits, did not know they were being provided and "made reasonable efforts" to try to avoid the situation.

Archibald denies wrongdoing in his response and said his contacts with recruits were permissible under NCAA rules. His lawyers wrote that the charges are based on "unfair supposition, untrue characterizations and the flimsiest of information."

Sellers acknowledges making some improper calls but said they were inadvertent and is requesting that they be considered secondary violations.

Calhoun is scheduled to meet in front of the committee next Friday with the rest of the UConn delegation, although the Huskies have put in to move it to either November or December because it is the first day of official practice and a Midnight Madness event on campus in Storrs.

Yeager said the committee has in the past moved hearings for football programs in the fall, when there was a game or for when it conflicted with a board of trustees meeting and a president couldn't attend.

But when the hearing occurs, Calhoun should make his case with his attorney.

"This is where it's different than the traditional legal proceedings,'' Yeager said. "A defendant may never open his mouth in a case. But there is real give and take in these hearings. I'm sure the coach would want to make his case and they often do. The attorney is there to amplify the point and drive it home.''

The major issue for Connecticut will be whether the committee sides with Calhoun. If it doesn't, he will have the stigma of failing to monitor. If it does, the loss of scholarships for two years shouldn't have as much of a damaging effect.

The school sided with Calhoun saying it does not agree that he "failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance," because he took steps to deter the recruit's relationship with Nochimson and did not know that Nochimson provided any benefits.

"The university believes that [Calhoun] has made it a priority to work hard and within the rules and that he has encouraged compliance with student-athletes, fellow coaches, university personnel and members of the community," the school wrote in its response.

The school said improper calls were made to fewer than 10 recruits and found that Calhoun made only two improper calls.

Neither Nochimson nor Miles cooperated in the NCAA and school investigations.

Calhoun's response also said he was not involved with the vast majority of the improper benefits, did not know they were being provided and "made reasonable efforts" to try to avoid the situation. He said he investigated whether there was an improper relationship between Nochimson and the recruit, and he warned the player.

"Calhoun understands his obligation to monitor his staff and to report his knowledge of potential violations," wrote his attorney, Scott Tompsett.

The coach also questions why he was singled out by investigators, when neither athletic director Jeff Hathaway nor the UConn compliance staff is "even referenced in the [allegations], much less charged with a major violation and put at risk for an individual penalty."

Calhoun has coached 24 seasons at UConn and 38 overall, compiling a record of 823-358 that includes a 2009 Final Four trip in addition to the two NCAA crowns. He recently signed a five-year, $13 million contract.

Under the self-imposed sanctions, the scholarships for the men's basketball program have been reduced from 13 to 12 for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years. The school also has agreed to reduce the number of coaches allowed to make calls to recruits and the number of "recruiting person days."

UConn was just 18-16 last season and lost in the second round of the NIT, as Calhoun faced an undisclosed medical problem. He took a medical leave of absence in January and missed seven games.

He has also been treated for cancer three times while at UConn.

"If a prospect and an agent are going to engage in conduct violative of NCAA legislation hundreds and thousands of miles away from campus, there is only so much a head coach can do to prevent the conduct," his attorney wrote.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.