The NCAA put New Mexico’s football program on three years of probation Wednesday and cut five scholarships as punishment for academic violations involving two former assistant coaches.
The sanctions imposed by the NCAA’s infractions committee went beyond the university’s self-imposed penalties, which included two years of probation and fewer scholarship reductions.
New Mexico’s head coach Rocky Long was not accused of any wrongdoing in the case.
The NCAA concluded that the former Lobos assistants in 2004 improperly helped three recruits to obtain fraudulent academic credits through correspondence courses they never completed at Fresno Pacific University, a fully accredited, four-year college in California that also offers online degrees.
In its report, the infractions committee said course registration materials at Fresno Pacific showed the home addresses for the three UNM recruits as the home address in California of a brother of one former assistant. Coaches’ office or cell phone numbers were listed as the recruits’ phone numbers. The recruits admitted to NCAA investigators that they “received no course materials and did no work” but received course credit.
The recruits took courses from a Fresno Pacific instructor who was an acquaintance of one of the former UNM assistants.
At a news conference, athletic director Paul Krebs said the university fully cooperated with the NCAA during the probe.
“I do think there is some relief that comes with the filing of the report. It allows us to bring closure to what is a sad and embarassing situation for the university,” Krebs said.
Long said the penalties will force his program to be more selective in its recruiting. He said he also would keep a tighter rein on his assistants.
Of the two assistants, Long said: “When they’re out on the road themselves and doing this sort of thing, they’re trying to recruit the best they can. Sometimes you lose sight of what’s important. I think they’re two great guys who made some serious mistakes.”
The infractions committee pointed out that New Mexico was the third school that had major rules violations involving courses from Fresno Pacific.
“All institutions are cautioned that due diligence must be exercised prior to accepting courses from Fresno Pacific for academic credit and athletic eligibility purposes,” the committee said in its report.
Sanctions also were imposed on the former assistants in their recruiting and coaching activities at any school where they work. The NCAA did not identify the assistants in the infractions committee’s report.
However, the committee heard from former assistants Lenny Rodriguez and Grady Stretz at a hearing in Indianapolis in April. Rodriguez, who coached at New Mexico from 1998-2006, is now an assistant at Mount San Antonio College in suburban Los Angeles. Stretz, an assistant from 1998-2005, coaches Arizona State’s defensive line.
Stretz’s lawyer, James Zeszutek, said no decision had been made whether his client would appeal the penalties to another NCAA panel.
“We are extremely disappointed and frustrated that the committee on infractions refused to look at all the evidence in a fair and equitable way,” said Zeszutek.
He pointed out that the correspondence courses were not used by the recruits to gain admission at UNM or another four-year college or for graduation from their two-year schools.
Zeszutek also objected to the NCAA’s investigatory methods.
“What they do is take your statement by ambush. The enforcement staff shows up on your door, will not give you the opportunity to look at any documents, look at any phone records. They try to almost force you into a lie and then they can come back and … charge you with unethical conduct after they put you in that position,” he said.
The NCAA also capped recruiting visits and accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties, which included lowering the number of coaches allowed to recruit off campus.
The coaches were also found to have violated rules against providing extra benefits to an athlete by arranging for an academically struggling football player to enroll in a correspondence course.
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