Thursday, March 11, 1999

Minnesota scandal tests college sports




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        At the risk of injecting some sanity into March Madness, shouldn't these student-athletes be studying?

        If college basketball is a means to an education, and not an end in itself, why do its players spend more time in airports than classrooms this time of year? Why are so many of them steered toward courses that challenge neither their minds nor their practice schedules? Why do so many seniors drop the pretense of pursuing a degree altogether and manage to retain their eligibility?

        Why? Because society is more interested in entertainment than in education. We don't want to know any more about scholastic abuses than we do about sausage-making. It's bound to upset our stomachs.

        Among the lessons of L'affair Lewinsky, though, is that some scandals grow so large that they become impossible to ignore. Such a bombshell detonated Wednesday morning at the University of Minnesota. The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing extensive documentation and multiple confessions, reports massive academic fraud in the Gophers basketball program.

        Jan Gangelhoff, a former office manager in Minnesota's academic counseling unit, claims to have performed approximately 400 pieces of coursework on behalf of 20 Minnesota basketball players between 1993 and 1998, including several members of this year's squad. Her claim is supported by computer files, graded papers and the admissions of four former players. Gangelhoff says one paper she wrote on Martin Luther King was submitted by three players to three different professors.

        “In the two years I was there, I never did anything,” former player Russ Archambault told the Pioneer Press. “The coaches knew. Everybody knew. We used to make jokes about it. ... I would go over there some nights and get, like, four papers done. The coaches would be laughing about it.”

Accusations serious
        They are surely not laughing now. The Gophers play Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament this afternoon, and that game is suddenly the least of Clem Haskins' concerns. Gangelhoff alleges the Minnesota coach paid her $3,000 in cash for her “tutoring” services, and that his assistants sometimes ferried players to her home. If proven, these are grounds for probation and/or firing.

        “My list of people who I don't think are capable of that sort of thing is getting shorter,” said Dr. Nancy Hamant, the University of Cincinnati's faculty representative to the NCAA. “What I hope is that this is not the tip of the iceberg; that these are things that are unusual.”

        There's nothing new or unusual about academic fraud on campus. Among the most compelling reasons to join a fraternity are the files of old tests and term papers made available to members. What's troubling about the Minnesota case, though, is the apparent complicity of coaches and administrators.

        Gangelhoff's decision to go public was spurred by an October letter from University officials disassociating her with the athletic department. If she has an ax to grind, though, she has been careful about her record-keeping. Her computer files contain more than 225 examples of suspect scholarship.

"Pyramid of energy'
        Some of the papers, Gangelhoff says, were checked by assistant coaches to make sure they sounded authentic. Typically, she'd talk to players about what went on in class, and then type out homework answers while they watched television.

        To wit: “The pyramid of energy flow always has a pyramidal shape because of the automatic degradation of energy quality required by the second law of energy.”

        The first law of basketball is he who signs the best players usually prevails. To get them, coaches are forever testing the elasticity of the rules and the energy of NCAA investigators.

        One of the reasons coaches are applauding Judge Ronald Buckwalter's ruling to strike down Proposition 16's eligibility requirement is that it eliminates a recurring recruiting obstacle.

        One of the reasons the NCAA is appealing is because of the need to regulate the coaches.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE