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Northridge Gets 3 Years of NCAA Probation

Basketball sanction comes after football violations of 2000, but school manages to avoid 'death penalty.'

March 31, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Northridge was put on three years' probation by the NCAA on Tuesday, and its men's basketball program was stripped of one scholarship over the next two seasons for violations that included academic fraud and unethical conduct.

The school avoided the so-called "death penalty" -- shutting down of the program -- for being a repeat violator within a five-year period, because it had reported the recent infractions to the NCAA. Northridge had been put on three years' probation in 2000 for violations by its now-defunct football program.

Thomas Yeager, chairman of the Division I Committee on Infractions, said enhanced penalties were not warranted because the violations in this case were the "intentional acts of one former assistant basketball coach" and because the previous case involved a different sport.

The assistant coach in question, John Dahlager, was fired in June 2003 after a university investigation found that the previous fall he had arranged to have two other assistant coaches alter the transcripts of player John Clark to keep him eligible.

The NCAA also found that Dahlager, who was with the Matadors for two seasons, had provided false and misleading information to NCAA investigators and told then-assistant men's volleyball coach Pat Lufrano to lie about the details of the case.

"There's no question there was a very distinct motive to get the young man eligible any way, shape or form for the second semester," Yeager said. "There was one individual that was holding the smoking gun on the basketball coaching staff."

According to the NCAA, Dahlager asked Lufrano and assistant baseball coach Grant Hohman to add Clark to their enrollment rosters and give him passing grades in kinesiology courses they taught, even though the player had not attended either class or completed any course requirements.

Hohman refused to assign a grade, but Lufrano, according to Yeager, "seriously compounded his involvement by providing the assistant basketball coach with an advance copy of his final exam and an answer sheet completed by another student.

"[Dahlager] provided this information to the student-athlete, who completed the final exam using the identical answers of the other student."

Lufrano gave Clark an A-minus, but Dahlager said that would not be enough to make Clark eligible. The NCAA said Dahlager then pressured Lufrano into changing the grade to an A. The school inquiry was initiated by faculty athletic representative Barbara Swerkes, who noticed the late addition of the two kinesiology courses and reported the irregularities to Athletic Director Dick Dull.

Lufrano was also relieved of his position. Hohman remains on the baseball staff but is not allowed to teach at the school. Dahlager was out of coaching last season.

"I'm proud of the system we do have in place," Dull said. "That system caught this internally. We're going to scrutinize this even more closely, because we don't want it to happen again."

Clark, a transfer from Grossmont Community College in El Cajon, was declared academically ineligible and did not play the rest of the season.

The school, in its report to the NCAA, did not award Clark's scholarship to another player and recommended the elimination of one scholarship for the 2004-05 season, besides firing the two coaches.

Dull and Northridge President Jolene Koester appeared at a hearing Feb. 14 before the NCAA's infractions committee to present the school's case.

Yeager said the school's proactive measures limited the severity of the penalties, and he lauded the athletic department's re-emphasis on compliance after the 2000 episode, in which football coach Ron Ponciano was fired for a series of recruiting violations.

"In this instance where these violations were much more serious and run to academic fraud, which all in higher education view as some of the most serious violations possible, the lessons learned from the previous infractions case and the renewed efforts on the part of compliance caught this instance at an early stage," Yeager said.

"While the committee is greatly troubled by a repeat violator who, in short order, is back in front of the committee, in this instance it seemed like a great deal of progress had been made from the previous case."

Northridge will not appeal the sanctions. Yeager said there was no direct evidence that Coach Bobby Braswell knew about his assistant's actions.

"You know me and how I handle situations," said Braswell, who was reprimanded by the school for lack of oversight.

"The expectations and the standards of our student-athletes are clear in this program. As the head coach, I take responsibility because it happened on my watch."

Dull acknowledged that the latest offense was another black mark on his athletic program but added:

"We work in a very complicated business, and errors are going to happen. People are going to betray you. The NCAA has given great credit to the fact that we found it ourselves. The NCAA totally accepted our recommendations and only added one more.

"I think our foundation is stronger than it ever was and it will continue to gain strength. We're committed to being good members of the NCAA."

Braswell said he was eager to put the episode behind him.

"There has been a cloud around me and the program for a year or so," he said. "Bottom line, it is an experience that I don't anticipate ever having to go through again."

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