<
>

Players not punished for crime they didn't commit

11/4/2004 - Missouri Tigers

The NCAA's punitive system took a major step forward Wednesday when the infractions committee decided to punish Missouri's coaching staff and not the current Tigers players.

Quin Snyder's staff is not allowed to recruit off-campus for a full calendar year, between Nov. 3, 2004 and Nov. 3, 2005, for recruiting violations. Infractions committee chair Thomas Yeager, the commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, said a postseason ban was not an option.

Yeager said the infractions committee is often criticized for penalizing current players who had nothing to do with a program's past violations. He said this Missouri case was solely about recruiting, so the program deserved to be penalize on this front.

He's right. Too often the infractions committee, made up of athletic directors, lawyers and a conference commissioner in this case, had punished current players instead of trying to go after their coaches. This penalty is much more of a direct hit on Snyder and his new staff -- former head coaches Melvin Watkins, Jeff Meyer, Jay Spoonhour and Marcus Perez, the one holdover.

The ban on off-campus recruiting had not been used since it was imposed on Illinois in 1990, according to Yeager. The ban means the Tigers won't be able to go to any off-campus event, including the annual summer league events run by Nike, Reebok and adidas next July. The Tigers also won't be able to make home visits in September 2005.

The ban will force the coaches to stay home and work the phones, write letters to, and e-mail recruits. But it won't be as tough a penalty as it could have been, given that the Tigers only have one senior for this season. Missouri could conceivably sign only one player in 2005-06 and don't necessarily have to go on the road to evaluate. They likely already evaluated their high school juniors last July.

"It's always better to make the players come to you," Snyder told ESPN.com on Wednesday night. The Tigers can have recruits make official and unofficial visits to Columbia. "We've got such a great arena, team and staff that we can show. We might have kids come earlier on visits in the spring, rather than the fall."

Snyder said the time that he and the staff will now be spending in Columbia instead of on the road will only benefit his current players.

"We know who we want to recruit [for the class of 2006]," Snyder said. "That's not to say it's not an obstacle. But we do only lose one player in Jason Conley."

Snyder said a postseason ban wouldn't have been warranted., adding that players on his team were recruited the right way. The NCAA, though, did look at excessive phone calls to Conley when he was transferring from VMI.

The penalty isn't harsh, but the intention of the infractions committee was to spare the current players any punishment.

"When I saw the relief in their faces, it made me feel better about moving forward," Snyder said.

Ultimately, the NCAA did not have a case for a postseason ban after it threw out allegations of academic fraud and excessive payments to players. The worst allegation essentially was levied against former associate head coach Tony Harvey for paying for meals of AAU coaches and not properly reporting them on expense reports.

Yeager said a show-cause penalty was discussed for the assistants but decided it wasn't warranted once Missouri essentially forced Harvey out. Assistant coach Lane Odom also was essentially pushed out of his job.

Yeager had strong words for the Missouri staff and, without naming Snyder, said the Tigers "calculated to gain a recruiting advantage."

Snyder said Wednesday that he didn't knowingly commit a violation. He said there was no wrongful intent and that had been his position all along.

But the infractions committee cited Snyder's response to the lack of detail during the hearings as a reason for the penalties.

Snyder said: "… And I was not as hands-on as I think I need to be. I also think, and I don't offer these as excuses, but by way of explanation, I think that is what the question was, do I think it is an aspect of my job that, one, I don't know if I realized how big it was. I think I realized it was important. I didn't realize the magnitude and the level of attention to detail and the emphasis that I needed to place on it as a head coach, to assure that everything is getting tied down, and that there isn't a disconnect …"

That's why Snyder said he takes responsibility for the three-year probation.

"The impact of that will largely be felt by me," Snyder said. "I've got to make sure I'm doing things the right way. [The probation] certainly isn't something you would choose, but if it can make you better and stronger then you should look at it as an opportunity."

Snyder was admonished for not being more careful. For the past year, the Tigers have been under compliance scrutiny on campus. They have to log their phone calls and will continue to do so in the next three years. Snyder said he has increased all of his hands-on, day-to-day administrative duties.

Missouri's case was high profile at the start and got lumped in with the Baylor case in the summer of 2003. But the end result for the Tigers was much more subdued. Yet, the rumors stung the program and certainly damaged Snyder's reputation.

"That's been the hardest thing, cooperating with the process amid so much rumor and innuendos and being forbidden from commenting," Snyder said. "But I'm energized about our future."

The focus is on Snyder now even more. It's off his team. That's the way it should be in a case that didn't have to do with the current players, save the excessive phone calls to one current player. But that was made by the staff, not the player, making the punishment befitting of the crime this time.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.