Self-imposed sanctions are for cash payment

Updated: November 26, 2004, 11:07 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- St. John's imposed two years of penalties on its men's basketball team Friday after an investigation revealed a former player was given cash by an athletic department employee.

The penalties, which include a postseason ban for 2004-05 and the loss of a scholarship this season and next, were imposed after an investigation into the charges earlier this year by former player Abe Keita.

Keita, one of six players suspended from the program last February over a curfew-breaking visit to a Pittsburgh-area strip club, made the charges of being paid a month later.

He said he was given $300 each month by a member of the basketball staff.

St. John's launched an investigation immediately and said Friday it found evidence to support the claim, which violated the NCAA's "extra-benefit" rules. The school said the violations involved only one player and that the inquiry involved no current players, coaches or other athletic staff.

The school said it believes the funds were provided with a humanitarian intent, but the payments were still judged to be inappropriate and unacceptable.

Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese corresponded with Pittsburgh president Mark Nordenberg, the chair of the Big East's presidents council, that the two have to meet on the St. John's-Big East tournament matter. The Big East is expected to make a decision sooner, rather than later, considering that they have to deal with ticket and television issues. If there is an 11-team tournament then there would be one less game and one less television window on the first day of the tournament. But there is plenty of time to make that decision before 2005.

St. John's coach Norm Roberts told ESPN.com's Andy Katz that he was told there would be a vote on whether the Red Storm would be allowed to play in the Big East tournament.

Big East spokesperson John Paquette told ESPN.com he didn't know of any vote forthcoming. But Paquette said a vote would need to occur for a change in the bylaws that say if a team pulls itself out of the NCAA Tournament then it cannot play in the tournament.

St. John's is hoping that the Big East would allow the Red Storm to play in the tournament, which could help ticket sales on the first day. The Red Storm also wouldn't be expected to win four games in four days nor would a Red Storm conference title win prevent another team from getting a bid.

Paquette said the Big East changed the rule on allowing a team that self-imposes a postseason ban after the 1993 season. Syracuse wasn't allowed to be in the NCAA Tournament but the Big East allowed the Orange into the Big East tournament.

Meanwhile, Tranghese is expected to contact SEC commissioner Mike Slive to see how he handled an 11-team tournament two years ago when Georgia self-imposed an SEC and NCAA Tournament ban late in the season.

Roberts told ESPN.com that losing a scholarship for the 2005-06 and '06-07 seasons will hurt. Cutting the Red Storm down to 12 scholarships means the Red Storm can't take any chances and need to find players that fit and will stay in the program.

Roberts said he has a five-year rollover contract. Under the current self-imposed sanctions, Roberts won't be free of penalties until the third year of his contract. That could change if the NCAA were to add more penalties.

Keita, who was a senior last season, was recruited by former St. John's coach Mike Jarvis, who was fired last December, six games into the 2003-04 season. He was replaced by interim coach Kevin Clark and the Red Storm went on the worst season in school history with a 6-21 record, including 1-15 in the Big East.

Jarvis, who works as a college basketball analyst for ESPN, told ESPN.com on Friday night that he met with the NCAA on the matter "a few months ago." He said he wanted to make sure that former St. John's assistant Mike Jarvis II wouldn't be prevented from taking another job. He said he was told Jarvis II, who now works at Duke, was fine. Former assistant coach Kevin Clark, who took over as the interim coach, works as an assistant with Rhode Island.

Jarvis hadn't heard of the self-imposed sanctions until contacted by ESPN.com Friday night. He said he didn't want to respond to allegations and added that, "I don't work for St. John's so I won't, nor cannot, respond to something that comes from them." Jarvis didn't rule out responding if and/when the NCAA releases its findings.

St. John's hired former Kansas assistant Roberts in April.

The NCAA is continuing its investigation into the matter and will decide if the self-imposed penalties are enough. St. John's was picked to finish last in the Big East and was not likely to make the postseason this season.

Keita, a native of West Africa, said the payments began when he first arrived at St. John's in 1999.

According to Big East rules, any school ineligible for NCAA postseason competition is not eligible to compete for a conference championship. All 12 Big East schools were scheduled to play in this year's tournament at Madison Square Garden so the absence of St. John's would require the tournament to be reconfigured.

Two years ago, the WAC didn't allow Fresno State in the postseason tournament after the Bulldogs imposed a postseason ban, even though the Bulldogs won the regular-season title. The WAC didn't want the Bulldogs to win the tournament and prevent another team from getting a deserved bid, since the NCAA isn't obligated to take another team if the winner declares itself ineligible. The Red Storm, 1-1 going into Saturday's game against Niagara, are playing this season without junior college transfer Jermaine Maybank, an expected starter, who injured his knee in a dunk contest last month.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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