St. John’s men’s basketball gets two years probation

The NCAA Infractions Committee announced in a report released Thursday that it has accepted the self-imposed penalties prescribed by the St. John’s basketball program following the admission of a former staff member who gave cash payments to a player.

The NCAA has placed St. John’s on probation for the next two years, but found the University’s self-imposed penalties to be satisfactory.

“A number of years ago, we reported the findings from our internal investigation,” said Chris Monasch, athletics director of St. John’s. “Today, we’re excited about moving forward, and we’re happy that there are no additional sanctions. We feel we have a stronger program in place, and certainly a point of emphasis for our staff and the University is that we’re going to do things in the proper way.”

Investigations began in Nov. 2004, when former player Abe Keita claimed that he was paid nearly $300 a month by Alex Evans, former director of basketball operations, after arriving at St. John’s to play basketball. The incident was a violation of the NCAA’s “extra-benefit” rules. 

Following investigation of the report, St. John’s chose to self-impose penalties for the 2004-2005 season as well as the following two seasons. Penalties included a two-season probationary period beginning in Dec. 2004, a restriction from NCAA post-season play for the 2004-05 season, and a reduction of financial aid awards, by one per season, for two years. In addition, St. John’s agreed to forfeit all wins and return 90 percent of the monies it received from the NCAA post-season championship competition in which the student-athlete in question played while he was ineligible.

“I thought the University handled it great, and I was not concerned at all,” said Norm Roberts, head men’s basketball coach. “I think that we cooperated fully with everybody. Fr. Harrington and everyone involved kept me in the loop of what was going on, and I thought that, if we did everything we needed to, it would turn out alright for us.”

Gene Marsh, chairman of the infractions committee, agreed, saying that he was pleased with the University’s cooperation throughout the investigation. He added that Evans was also cooperative and appeared “genuinely sorrowful that he had done this.”

According to Marsh, however, the bigger problem in the situation was a failure to monitor Keita’s funds.

“This case is another in a series in which institutions have failed to discern the source of funds for international student-athletes brought to campus,” Marsh said. “When an international student-athlete is also a non-qualifier ineligible to receive athletically related financial aid, the institution has greater responsibility to monitor that student-athlete so as to avoid potential violations of the NCAA’s extra-benefit legislation.”

Following the investigation, the University claims that it now has better monitoring practices in place in order to avoid similar situations in the future.

“Whenever anything like this happens, we have to recognize the fact that there are no excuses,” said University President, the Rev. Donald J. Harrington. “This is the University’s basketball program, and the University and I, as president, are responsible.

“Monitoring means that a small piece of it went wrong, and realistically that can happen,” Harrington continued. “That can happen in academic areas, it can happen in almost any part of a university or corporation. So it happened, the university or the corporation accepts responsibility for that, doesn’t make excuses, and does all it can to ensure that it does not happen again.”

Because the NCAA was satisfied with the University’s self-imposed penalties, St. John’s will only lose one more scholarship for the 2006-2007 year.

“I’m totally relieved,” Roberts said. “I think it’s a great day for us, and we can move on with our program. What we tried to do in recruiting is we were up front and honest with everybody, letting them know what the situation was and how we were going to do things in the future. I’m just excited about it. It gives us another scholarship next year, and we can go back to 13 and move on with our business.”