As UC Irvine prepares to name an athletic director--an appointment Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Horace Mitchell says will make "a statement about where the athletic program is going"--it must make some complicated decisions.
Of the three finalists, the most experienced administrator and the only one to have led a powerhouse program is Brad Rothermel, former Nevada Las Vegas athletic director.
The others are Roy Danforth, a former Tulane athletic director who now heads the athletic program at Fairleigh Dickinson--a school that makes the NCAA basketball tournament from time to time out of the weak Northeast Conference--and Vic Cegles, an assistant athletic director at Arizona State and looking for his first head job.
But choosing Rothermel, who is held in high esteem by many in the Big West Conference, is not as simple as it might seem. For one thing, he says he probably will not accept the job unless Irvine dramatically increases its financial commitment to athletics.
The other two candidates also expressed concern about the meager funding, but Rothermel might be prepared to drive the hardest bargain. If he is offered the job, Rothermel said he will push for the department to adopt a budget of $4 million or more, with about 80% of the funding coming from the university and the remainder from the community. The department budget was approximately $3 million before more than half a million was cut last spring when baseball was discontinued.
"I told everybody there has to be a different level of commitment," Rothermel said, calling winning a matter of economics. "If they don't want that, they don't want me."
The other question is whether Irvine can resolve to its satisfaction Rothermel's role in rules violations the NCAA alleges occurred at UNLV involving the men's basketball program under Jerry Tarkanian.
Mitchell says Irvine is making a thorough background check--not only of Rothermel, but of the other candidates--that includes contact with the NCAA about any known violations or charges. Though Irvine is holding all three to the same scrutiny, Rothermel has the most prominent public profile because of UNLV's notoriety and a pending infractions case.
Irvine's concern is merited because Rothermel is mentioned by name or title in four of the 40 areas detailed in the NCAA's official letter of inquiry in a five-year-old case. Three of the four areas fall under the umbrella of institutional control, for which the athletic director is held partially responsible, even if only for being unaware of particular practices.
The most serious charge of direct involvement in rules violations is that Rothermel signed and forwarded a 1986-87 NCAA compliance form despite knowing that former academic counselor Ann Mayo had refused to sign it. Instead, Mayo's name was "whited out" and the form--in effect an honor code that athletic staff members sign to attest that they know of no violations--was forwarded as if complete. Mayo later made charges of rules violations to the NCAA, sources said.
The NCAA considers the incident a major violation and an illustration of an attempt to ignore evidence of possible violations. Rothermel says he was unaware that Mayo claimed to have knowledge of violations or objected to signing for that reason. He said a secretary whited out Mayo's name at his instruction because Mayo "indicated she was leaving the department," though she did not leave at that time. "It was poor management as opposed to an effort to circumvent rules," Rothermel said.
Irvine must not only make a judgment about whether it accepts Rothermel's account of events at UNLV, but it also must assess the possibility that by hiring him, the school could be risking NCAA restrictions if Rothermel is later found responsible for any violations at UNLV.
Such action involving an athletic director is unprecedented. NCAA policy allows penalties to follow employees to another school, but the policy has only been applied to coaches in the past--and very few at that--and never to an athletic director, NCAA officials said.
"If a director of athletics' involvement was serious enough, (restrictions) could follow him as well," said Mark Jones, one of the NCAA's directors of enforcement. "The worst-case scenario is that some limitations could be placed on him that no one anticipated."
That doesn't mean that Irvine could be banned from the NCAA basketball tournament if it hires Rothermel--if Irvine could \o7 make\f7 the NCAA tournament.
In the case of a coach who is found to have committed recruiting violations, the restrictions might prohibit off-campus recruiting for a certain period.
"It would be a different type of exercise (if it involved an athletic director)," Jones said. "What you would do to that individual probably would be specific to the type of violation. If an athletic director were providing money to prospects, you'd make sure he was not involved in recruiting."
Rothermel said he believes there is little risk of sanctions following him.