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Ethics must break code of silence

10/17/2003

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- A few hours after Wednesday's NABC coaches summit broke, an assistant coach called to discuss rumors of a violation at another program.

Earlier, while waiting for the summit to begin, one of the nearly 300 head coaches in attendance provided some information about another potential violation.

You see, an assistant or head coach making allegations of another's wrong-doing is a daily occurrence. When this information makes its way to the members of the media, especially when it comes to recruiting, the hearsay is often investigated. Rumors must be substantiated.

Coaches hear the rumors, but more often than not, the "violations" fall on deaf ears within the coaching fraternity. Few coaches want to go on the record, or at the very least, call the NCAA.

But that might change after Wednesday's gathering of Division I head coaches -- or at least that's the intent of an newly established "code of ethics."

"Sometimes you don't know what happened and there is a rumor and you're not going to do anything on a rumor," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "If I know someone is violating the rules then I feel it's my duty to report them."

That's what happened in August of 2002 when the head coaches at Gonzaga, Eastern Washington and Washington State blew the whistle on Washington. Gonzaga's Mark Few, Eastern Washington's Ray Giacolletti and then-Washington State coach Paul Graham called out violations by the Huskies' staff. They confronted Washington, and when rebuffed, called the NCAA. When questioned on the matter by the media, they didn't back down.

Washington was ultimately put on probation, assistant coach Cameron Dollar lost a month's pay, and the program was hit with a black eye to start last season. But then something odd happened. Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar was seen on the bench during the Pan Am Games for USA Basketball in August.

The same goes for the ongoing investigation into Missouri's program under Quin Snyder's watch. The investigation into allegations of academic fraud, cash and gifts for a former player, is far from complete. Meanwhile, Snyder was with Romar on that same staff in August.

Never mind that Snyder might end up being exonerated. The fact remains there was nothing directed at him or Romar for any kind of ethical violations from the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Oh, and then there is former Baylor assistant Abar Rouse, who still hasn't found his next job after secretly taping conversations with Dave Bliss that showed a potential coverup of NCAA violations.

Whether coaches really start to police themselves and work in conjunction with the NCAA instead of against the organization is still unknown. They said all the right things Wednesday, claiming each would do more and really start to call coaches out if they see violations. There was even some talk about taking away some coaching benefits. If that happens, then it might start a cleansing process of the profession -- at least in the public's eye.

"We're moving in the direction that the ethics committee (will do more)," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "Mike Montgomery (of Stanford) was named the chair a few years ago and it wasn't that active. But you'll see it be more active now."

"Am I the chairman of the ethics committee because I'm more ethical than anybody? No," Montgomery said. "I'm chairman partly because I'm at Stanford, and that carries weight as an institution. That works, so it has less to do with me."

There is no doubt Montgomery's peers view him as a man of integrity and high character. And now he'll have the power to start pushing for more serious repercussions. The NABC put out a release that discussed a code of ethics that has to be signed by the coach and players. It talked about having assistants go to mandatory meetings at the Final Four on recruiting, diversity, character, ethics and morals. During the three-hour meeting, both parties discussed that rules violations and unacceptable behavior could lead to suspension from the organization.

The threat of taking away the right to purchase Final Four tickets came up again. The NABC has put some teeth behind that threat, as the potential of losing Final Four tickets hung over coaches' heads if they didn't attend this meeting. But Boeheim and NABC executive director Jim Haney backed down a bit and didn't go as far as saying they would enforce the mandate across the board. (Don't be surprised if Texas Tech's Bob Knight still gets his tickets in San Antonio despite skipping Wednesday's meeting, choosing not to sit in the same room as former Indiana president and current NCAA president Myles Brand).

Then again, the NABC has to start biting instead of barking.

"We don't have the power to investigate," Montgomery said of the ethics committee. "What we're trying to do within our organization is that we need to be responsible to ourselves. We all agree on a certain set of standards. We want the ability to come back after the NCAA has done its job. We're not looking to single people out.

"We should be able to suspend a coach from the organization. Does it mean anything? Maybe, or maybe not. We want it to mean something. Perhaps a letter to the coach or athletic director or president would mean something.

"Maybe you shouldn't be able to coach USA basketball or receive coaching awards. We're in an infant stage right now."

LSU coach John Brady said it's not the coaches' job to find who is breaking the rules. But at the same time, he, like the other coaches in attendance -- not to mention former Georgetown coach John Thompson -- agree all have to work with the NCAA.

Well, working with the NCAA means helping it find the perpetrators of illicit behavior on the road.

The problems this offseason at Iowa State with Larry Eustachy (whose contract essentially was bought out due to partying with students on the road after two Big 12 games at Missouri and Kansas State the past two years) and the unique situation at Baylor with Bliss certainly aren't the norm in college basketball. But bending the rules in recruiting and a growing trend of academic fraud to some extent (Georgia, Fresno State, St. Bonaventure and allegations at Missouri and Fairfield) is probably the most alarming.

Two of the coaches of programs in question -- Snyder and Fairfield's Tim O'Toole -- were former assistants at Duke, certainly not a program with a stigma of breaking rules.

"It is a concern and those guys are friends too," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant. "There's only two percent of our membership that is the problem. This wasn't a day to point fingers and get off on petty tangents. That didn't happen here. This was not a day for pettiness."

Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, the current president of the NABC, went so far as to say nothing new came out of the meeting. He said it was a simple reinforcement of ethics and ensuring there was uniformity about how much the coaches care about the game and want to change its image.

For this meeting to matter in the long run, these coaches have to stop simply calling out "cheaters" privately. Instead, they need to start doing something about it. If they don't report it to the NCAA or the ethics committee then the perception of coaches won't change.

True, the majority isn't committing egregious acts, if any at all. But the ones who have been caught dragged the rest of them down.

If college coaches are ready to make this a new day in the profession, this meeting has to be a start of taking a stand that they won't stand for violations.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.