Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The NCAA Gets One Right

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the Scout.com network and syndicated to Yahoo

Ok, Maryland football fans, you can exhale now. For any Terrapin supporter with a long memory, awaiting the ruling on the recent violations by former assistant coach Rod Sharpless has been unnerving. When remembering the ridiculously harsh penalties the NCAA handed down to cripple the Maryland basketball program for years in 1990, Terps fans could not help but worry what this organization of limited wisdom would come up with in this case.

Fortunately, the NCAA got it right this time, handing down only a one-year probation with no sanctions. No missed television or bowl games, no restrictions on scholarships or recruiting.

Athletic Director Debbie Yow tried to make the case that the violations (Sharpless giving recruit Victor Abiamiri cash on FIVE different occasions) were minor in nature. This was well intentioned but doomed to fail. Cardinal sin #1 in recruiting high school athletes is handing them cash. There is no way that any situation that involves repeated instances of this can be considered anything other than a major violation.

That being said, kudos to Dr. Yow and head football coach Ralph Friedgen for the decisive way they dealt with this situation and the integrity they showed while they did so. Neither individual shirked any responsibility for the violations, and their actions in quickly severing ties with Sharpless and ending their recruiting of Abiamiri prevented this problem from becoming a whole lot worse.

This is a critical time for Maryland football, as the program stands on the verge of becoming a national power. This is happening in the nick of time, with the resurgence of Virginia and NC State and Miami and Virginia Tech’s arrival in the ACC next year. Even a slight stumble in the building process could return the Terrapins to the bottom half of the conference football standings as quickly as they escaped it. Thanks largely to the actions of Dr. Yow and coach Friedgen, what could have been a major road block became a minor speed bump.

Caught in the crossfire was assistant coach Al Seamonson, who received an official reprimand and a two-year salary freeze for giving a recruit’s father a cap and a hat. He even had to take the $20 value of this gift out of his own pocket and donate it to charity (unfortunately, not the starving Internet sports writers’ fund). This sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it.

This is just the kind of message Dr. Yow needs to send to all of the athletic department staff, since this one-year probation comes with a five-year repeat offender window. This means that any other violation, probably even a small one, can be expected to bring harsh penalties to the school. Good!

Maryland fans and alumni want the football team and all the others that the school field to be successful. I suspect, however, that few would be willing to see Terrapin athletics slide down to the level of most SEC schools, where cheating and probation appear to be an accepted way of life and price of victory. Winning without cheating is possible, just harder. It takes the right people to pull it off, and I feel that with Coach Friegden's leadership and Dr. Yow's support, Maryland football has the right people in place.

I accept Dr. Yow’s sincerity when she states the athletic department’s “unwavering departmental culture that all NCAA rules and regulations are to be followed to the letter, even in the smallest matters.” If any coaches or administrators working in the Maryland athletic program have grown lax in following this directive, I have no doubt that will change quickly.

Friedgen told the Baltimore Sun yesterday regarding the ruling “Hopefully, it will help us get ready for the season and get this off our minds and know where we’re going and what we can achieve.” I’m sure Maryland fans feel the same way.

It will soon be time to find out what happens on the field. Without a dark cloud hanging over the football program, the fun can begin.

I also join Maryland fans' relief knowing that Johnny Holiday will be behind the microphone when the season starts. After some scary complications following hernia surgery, he is back up and around and ready for action. I’m sure coach Friedgen appreciates him getting that out of the way before the games began.


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