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Jeff Eisenberg

NCAA misses opportunity to use UConn ruling as a deterrent

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Since it's so difficult for the short-staffed NCAA to prove that a program is associating with agents or enticing recruits with extra benefits, the only recourse it has is to send a harsh message whenever they do catch a coach breaking the rules.

That's why it's disappointing that the NCAA failed to hand out a stiff enough penalty to UConn on Tuesday to serve as an effective deterrent.

Even though the NCAA ruled in May that UConn committed eight major violations in the 2006 recruitment of forward Nate Miles, the penalty the Huskies received was little more than a slap on the wrist.

UConn wasn't banned from the postseason, nor will the team be without head coach Jim Calhoun for long. Calhoun will only have to sit out three conference games next season and not make phone calls to recruits for a period of six months despite being cited for "failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance" within the program.

Instead it was one of Calhoun's underlings who was made a convenient scapegoat. Ex-director of basketball operations Beau Archibald received a two-year show-cause penalty for his involvement in Miles' recruitment and for providing misleading information to NCAA investigators.

Asked repeatedly during a teleconference with reporters to explain why the committee on infractions felt a three-game suspension was sufficient for Calhoun, chairman Dennis Thomas struggled to defend the decision.

On the one hand, he said "the head coach is responsible for all that goes on in his program" including improper phone calls made by his assistants and the involvement of an agent in the recruitment of a player. On the other hand, he insisted that Calhoun's punishment was "adequate and fair."

"We think the head coach should be aware, but also at the same time the head coach obviously cannot be aware of everything that goes on in the program," said Thomas, the commissioner of the Mideastern Athletic Conference. "However, the head coach does bear responsibility. So we think that the information brought forth to the committee warrants the penalty we assessed."

The UConn infractions case stemmed from a March 2009 Yahoo! Sports report detailing that Calhoun and his staff involved agent Josh Nochimson in the recruitment of Miles, who signed with the Huskies but never played a game for the program. Nochimson, a one-time student manager, provided Miles with lodging, transportation and meals to help guide him to UConn.

The problem with the NCAA's penalty is that removing a few scholarships and prohibiting a couple coaches from making phone calls won't impact UConn's longterm viability as a program.

Sure, taking away UConn's right to play in the NCAA tournament is probably unfairly punishing current players who had nothing to do with these penalties, but at the very least the NCAA could have suspended Calhoun longer.

Asked whether he feared that Calhoun's punishment was not a sufficient deterrent to other coaches not to associate with agents, Thomas said it was not the goal of the infractions committee to send messages. Instead he somewhat naively placed that onus on the coaching staffs themselves.

"The committee feels that it's on the institution, the head coach and assistant coaches to educate parents, guardians and student-athletes about the agent aspect and their involvement," Thomas said. "We're aware of that and the NCAA also has people who are monitoring the agent aspect as it pertains to elite student athletes."

If the NCAA's ruling is a setback for those fighting to curb lawlessness in college athletics, it's a huge victory for UConn and for Calhoun.

Even as UConn stormed to a surprise Maui Invitational title and returned to the top 20 this winter, there was always the nagging question of whether the NCAA would strip the Huskies of the right to participate in the postseason.

Now UConn fans can breathe easy. Not only are their NCAA tournament aspirations safe, so is the longterm future of their program.

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