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Fresno Bursts Its Own Bubble

School bans men from NCAA tournament and NIT because of academic fraud.

March 04, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

Fresno State, still unable to put the Jerry Tarkanian era completely in its past, announced Monday it has banned its 20-6 men's basketball team from playing in the NCAA or National Invitation Tournament this season after school officials confirmed allegations of academic fraud under the former coach.

"I regret that this severe action will affect student athletes, staff and coaches who were utterly unconnected to the problem," University President John D. Welty said. "However, it is important that this institution guarantee its academic integrity. We simply will not tolerate academic misconduct in any form."

Fresno State had been considered a "bubble" team for the NCAA tournament, and the decision to withhold the team from postseason play came only two days after a net-snipping celebration when the Bulldogs clinched the top seeding in the Western Athletic Conference tournament with a double-overtime victory over Nevada.

A decision on whether Fresno State will be allowed to participate in the WAC tournament next week in Tulsa will be made by the WAC council today or Wednesday, athletic department spokesman Jake Bragonier said.

The self-imposed penalty was the result of speedy action by Fresno State, after aspects of an ongoing university investigation were confirmed by a report in the Fresno Bee last month that a former team statistician admitted he wrote papers for players in exchange for cash.

Stephen Mintz told the newspaper he was paid $1,500 to write papers for former players Courtney Alexander, Terrance Roberson and Dennis Nathan during the 1999-2000 season. (Alexander, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets, has denied the allegations, saying Mintz merely typed papers for him.)

Though Tarkanian was not directly implicated in the scheme and has denied knowledge of improprieties while he was coach, it marked the second time this season Fresno State has self-imposed penalties for violations that occurred before Tarkanian retired last year.

In December, the university self-imposed a two-year probation and the loss of three scholarships after the Bee reported former player Tito Maddox admitted accepting about $30,000 from a relative of an agent during the 2000-2001 season.

The paper also reported Roberson said he accepted several hundred dollars during the 1999-2000 season from Nate Cebrun, a figure with ties to several college scandals.

By moving quickly, Fresno State is seeking to put the fallout of Tarkanian's tenure as coach behind the program as quickly as possible.

The NCAA will review the findings and penalties this summer before determining whether additional penalties should be imposed, bringing a relatively quick end to a process that often takes more than a year.

By contrast, the Georgia team coached by Jim Harrick that is facing allegations of academic fraud and improper benefits made by former player Tony Cole probably will compete in the NCAA tournament without sanctions, with the investigation still in its infancy.

In Fresno State's case, Athletic Director Scott Johnson said recently the program is eager to put the transgressions of the Tarkanian era behind it and move on under new Coach Ray Lopes.

Lopes, a former Oklahoma assistant, said his players were disappointed by the decision but that no one can take away the fact the Bulldogs -- picked to finish fifth in the WAC -- won the regular-season title.

Welty also expressed dismay at how the decision affects players who were not involved.

"While I regret having to take an action that is so hurtful to our current team, it is consistent with NCAA precedent and I believe it is in the best long-term interest of the basketball program and the university," Welty said.

"Doing it now puts our program in the best possible position to enter next year with a clean slate."

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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