Learning from Baylor's mistakes
The violations committed at Baylor and ensuing attempted cover-up by former head coach Dave Bliss made at least one Big 12 school proactive, and the conference office could be next. Baylor's own investigators, jaded from the deception in Waco, are offering up advice for anyone willing to listen -- especially their colleagues at Missouri.
Baylor's major violations centered around tuition payments to two non-scholarship players -- the late Patrick Dennehy and 2002 freshman Corey Herring. While carrying non-scholarship players on a roster, either as redshirts or walk-ons, isn't unusual, the awareness of such players has risen for the coming season.
The trouble didn't start at Baylor when Bliss added two extra non-scholarship players after already bringing in the maximum five scholarship newcomers in 2002-03. No one questioned how Dennehy or Herring were getting their tuition paid. They should have, and utimately, that would be the violation that cost Bliss and his staff their jobs.
Going into the 2003-04 season, schools in and out of the Big 12 are urged to study the lessons learned at Baylor -- whether they ever need to apply them to their own programs or not.
Lesson No. 1: Know Your Scholarship Limits
Kansas State has nothing to hide. Yes, it signed six players for the upcoming season. Yes, that's one more than the allotted five-in-eight scholarship rule allows. And get this -- the Wildcats also have a pair of playing walk-ons on the 2003-04 roster.
Well, the Wildcats weren't going to wait for someone to ask questions about its roster within the Kansas State administration. So, the basketball staff went on the offensive in the wake of the last month's fallout from Baylor.
"In light of what we saw with the (Patrick) Dennehy situation at Baylor, we figured that questions would come up, so we wanted to make sure that everyone knew we were doing the right thing," Kansas State coach Jim Wooldridge said. "We submitted how these guys were paying for school. It's all open records. You're free to look at it. We're trying to get ahead of all of this. It's all open to our administration."
Still, how Kansas State was able to sign six new players this season had the potential of raising a few red flags. The explaination is a bit complicated, but it's also all above board -- thanks to a NCAA loophole.
Kansas State brought in four high school players -- Cartier Martin, Dez Willingham, Lance Harris and Tyler Hughes -- as well as a pair of junior college transfers (Dramane Diarra and Jeremiah Massey). Erick Harper, Kansas State's assistant athletic director in charge of compliance, said the NCAA allows a school to bring in one scholarship over the limit if the number of outgoing players (six from last season) is more than the limit of five who can typically come in. The players leaving -- either via transferring or exhausted eligibility -- also must meet the degree percentage requirements. Those requirements for any player leaving after his freshman year has to have met 20 percent of his degree, 40 percent for sophomores, 60 percent for juniors and 80 percent for fourth-year seniors.
"This was the first year you could do this but if you don't use it this year or next, it's over,'' Harper said. The loophole will close after the 2004-05 season. "It was a way to give schools a chance to get whole (up to the maximum number of 13 scholarships)."
OK, this may explain the six new faces on the K-State roster. But what about those walk-ons? Wooldridge knew someone would ask how Schyler Thomas and Justin Williams are paying for school.
Government loans and various grants, all of which were documented to the administration, allowed Williams and Thomas to play for the Wildcats last season. Thomas, who played in 26 games last season, also had to pay out-of-state tuition, since he is from Nebraska. Wooldridge said he told the family that Thomas could receive a scholarship after two seasons once one became available.
Still, it's situations like these at K-State that open a coach up for questions. Wooldridge provided an answer first.
"All of it is documented at the financial aid office to show how they're getting loans and grants," Harper said. "After what happened at Baylor, we went ahead and checked everything and made sure our ducks were in order."
Lesson No. 2: Who's Investigating Whom?
Baylor officials would rather Paul Bradshaw, the school's compliance officer, not talk about how Baylor tried to add seven newcomers last year. He's also not at liberty to discuss how Dennehy could be on scholarship at New Mexico one year, but not need to be at Baylor the next.
|“||If anyone were to call me from Missouri and ask me for advice, I would be more than happy to accommodate them. Big 12 institutions need to work together and benefit from the experiences of other members. ”|
|— Bill Underwood, the Baylor law professor leading on-campus investigation|
"We're supposed to be the conscious of the athletic department," said Jon Fagg, N.C. State's assistant athletic director in charge of compliance. "We're supposed to have authority, but we don't truly have it. We all walk a fine line. If you work for athletics, there is an appearance that you can be swayed. If you work outside of athletics, there is question as to whether you can get the information."
This is why finding an independent voice on campus is imperative to conduct a proper and thorough investigation. Dan Beebe, an assistant commissioner at the Big 12 in charge of compliance, said the conference office has to look at how information is managed on the campus level. He said the compliance officer is supposed to be of service to coaches, but then must turn around and investigate any possible violations. This dual role may be too much to ask of one individual.
Harper added that getting to know the coaches and the boosters is important, but that makes it that much harder to come down with "a heavy arm if there is an alleged violation."
"If you investigate, then you feel like you're intruding," Harper said. "You want to work with the coaches, not against them ... but you have to make sure they don't slip up and you have to protect the institution."
Like most schools, when Kansas State looks into "garden-variety type of violations," it does so within the athletic department. But when a former football player had a car bought by a booster several years ago, "that's when we enlisted an outside agency to come in on the heels of our interviews to make sure we didn't miss anything."
Baylor law professors are conducting the school's on-campus investigation. A Missouri electrical engineering professor will conduct the investigation into allegations of gifts, payments and academic fraud related to former Tiger Ricky Clemons.
"It's a good move by schools when they (go outside of the athletic department)," said Ron Barker, the Pac-10's assistant commissioner in charge of governance and enforcement. The Pac-10 conducts its own investigations of its members, much like the NCAA. The Big 12, however, doesn't operate in that manner.
"The athletic department has a vested interest, but an outside investigator, like independent faculty, can remove the athletic department out of the investigation," Barker said. "It's a good faith effort and it can help get to the bottom (of the violations)."
Baylor law professor Bill Underwood led the investigation into Darrel Johnson's academic fraud violations in the mid-'90s and was called upon to lead the investigation into Bliss' violations this summer.
"If anyone were to call me from Missouri and ask me for advice, I would be more than happy to accommodate them," Underwood said. "Big 12 institutions need to work together and benefit from the experiences of other members. I've had the misfortunate of drawing this assignment. There is nothing worse as a professor at a university than having to do this kind of work. I can't imagine a worse assignment, so I feel for the folks at Missouri because I know how difficult it is."
Lesson No. 3: Look For Lies
The majority of Underwood's pain throughout the investigation came from being duped. Bliss lied to him about how the payments on Dennehy's tuition were being made. Recorded audio tapes showed Bliss tried to blame Dennehy, saying he was drug dealing to pay for his tuition, when Bliss was actually orchestrating the payments. Bliss later admitted as much before he resigned Aug. 8.
"The lesson to be learned for me is that you have to keep looking and keep digging even if someone attempts to mislead you," Underwood said. "Ultimately, you'll get to the truth. This is a healthy reminder for the need for skepticism. It's a healthy reminder that you can't accept what people say at face value. That's true with people that you know and respect."
The professors conducting the Missouri investigation might face the same kind of hurdles. They likely will have to double-check every statement made by anyone in the athletic department. That doesn't mean, though, that the credibility of the people making the allegations goes unchallenged.
Underwood said the motives of the people making the allegations (an ex-girlfriend, for example, in the Missouri case) have to be examined. Consistency in their stories, as well as documents, is a must. In the Baylor case, investigators talked to Dennehy's girlfriend Jessica De La Rosa, whose story of tuition payments by Bliss was corroborated upon examination of a "paper trail," according to a source close to the investigation.
The problem for any investigator, however, is they don't have subpoena power. That means they must getting a coach, player or anyone involved to go on record is strictly voluntary. It can help when there is a criminal investigation attached (Baylor, Missouri and, recently, Michigan), but that can also scare away witnesses or unwillingly extend the interview process, according to David Price, enforcement director at the NCAA.
Price said painting all coaches as being more apt to lie to investigators, simply because of what has happened at Baylor, would not only be wrong but irresponsible. There is no threat of criminal perjury with an NCAA investigation because an oath isn't taken. But the NCAA, and ultimately the faculty doing an on-campus investigation, must go into the process knowing that someone could be lying to them to protect someone, their job or the program.
"And if an institution wants to find out the truth then they have to go after the allegations with an open mind and be aggressive," Price said. "The institutions that do that have an excellent chance to uncover the facts."
Baylor did. Missouri is following the Bears' lead. The rest of Division I's schools should be watching and learning, too.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.