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DOMINGUEZ

Northridge Follows Letter of the Law

July 09, 1999|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ

One down, one to go.

That's probably the feeling of whoever sent the anonymous letter to the Cal State Northridge athletic department May 19.

You know, the letter alleging NCAA violations in the Northridge football program, the letter apparently seen only by administrators at the school involved in the ensuing investigation.

The letter that caused offensive coordinator Rob Phenicie to "resign" on Wednesday.

One down.

The letter that has Coach Ron Ponciano scrambling for his job in a meeting today with administrators.

One to go.

Although, knowing Ponciano, he's not about to fade quietly into the good night.

Since the 20-plus allegations surfaced, Ponciano has steadfastly denied wrongdoing, calling the charges ridiculous among other things, mostly unprintable.

Ponciano is not discussing specifics and school officials are keeping a tight lid, either through silence or bureaucratic gibberish.

But what really irks Ponciano is being accused by someone too spineless to sign an incriminating letter with far-reaching consequences, and that investigators won't show him the letter.

Supposedly, the origin of the letter is unknown, but the resulting turmoil is believed to be the fallout from dissension within the coaching staff.

Sources said one assistant was angered after being passed over for a promotion that went to Aaron Flowers, a former Matador All-American quarterback.

Ponciano is on directed vacation, ordered by administrators to stay away from his office during the investigation, but he has maintained contact with all his assistants except running backs coach Keith Borges and defensive coordinator Craig Wall.

"I haven't talked to either of those guys for about 2 1/2 months," Ponciano said.

Borges has not returned calls from The Times and Wall is on vacation and awaiting the outcome of the investigation.

"I don't really have anything to say about any of that," Wall said. "All I know is what I'm reading. Anything I say would be conjecture. We are not supposed to be talking to the press. I have absolutely no comment."

Sources said Northridge coaches were questioned by investigators and required to sign a document instructing them not to retaliate against one another. They also were told to keep quiet.

Which is in keeping with the shroud of secrecy surrounding the investigation.

Consider Phenicie's departure. Northridge officials said his resignation was not related to the investigation. That's what the school wants us to believe. But is it true?

Sources said Phenicie was asked to resign because of allegations raised in the anonymous letter. He hired an attorney, who advised him not to comment, except to say Wednesday that his leaving "hurts the kids more than it hurts anybody else. . . . I feel like I'm letting down the kids."

Does that sound like someone leaving a program willingly?

Does someone resigning for another job usually bring a lawyer to settle the severance package?

Does someone turn down another position, like Phenicie did at Northern Arizona in December, to stay at an emerging program and then walk away?

Not likely.

Perhaps Northridge had legitimate reasons to kick out Phenicie and to force a showdown with Ponciano. If that's the case, by all means get rid of them and post help-wanted signs.

But because the school has been less than forthcoming with information regarding the investigation, the situation has deteriorated into damaging rumor and innuendo. Then again, it is Northridge.

It's time for the masquerade to end. The author or authors of the anonymous letter should come forward and stand behind their allegations, and Northridge should afford Ponciano the courtesy of reading the letter at last.

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