Between the movie Fargo and electing a pro wrestler as governor, Minnesota has given us some laughs lately. The state served up more merriment last week—you betcha!—when University of Minnesota president Mark Yudof announced the school's self-imposed penalty against its men's basketball team for a massive cheating scandal (SI, June 14). With a perfect deadpan delivery, Yudof banned the Gophers from playing in the 2000 NCAA or NIT tournaments. He said he wanted to show that his school "meant business" and could police itself.
Now that's funny. Minnesota has been picked as low as 11th in the Big Ten under first-year head coach Dan Monson, so banning the Gophers from the postseason sounds a lot like barring the Saints from the Super Bowl. More important, the punishment hardly fits the crime. In the face of misconduct that included the ghostwriting of players' course work by a university staffer, travel irregularities involving the coaching staff, and callous treatment by school officials and police toward women who said they had been sexually harassed by athletes, this ban is like a vow from Jeffrey Dahmer to work on his table manners.
Ever the jester, Yudof says his sanctions are in the "middle range of penalties." The low range would presumably entail changing the flavor of Gatorade in the Gophers' cooler. With the university's probe entering its eighth month, only two people have lost their jobs. Academic counselor Alonzo Newby was fired after refusing to cooperate with school investigators, and coach Clem Haskins skipped town with a $1.5 million buyout. Holy Golden Gopher Parachute! Vice president McKinley Boston—who apparently allowed his buddy Haskins to set up an independent academic support system for the basketball team—is still on the job, along with men's athletic director Mark Dienhart and the school's NCAA compliance director, Chris Schoeman.
Of course, Yudof's act was in keeping with the blueprint for beleaguered schools. After getting caught breaking the rules, a university punishes itself in hopes of returning to the NCAA's good graces. For that to work, though, the sanctions must at least approach the severity of the violations. Otherwise the self-punisher's words ring as hollow as Haskins's avowal of his innocence. When the NCAA reviews Yudof's measures, you can bet it will send Minnesota a simple message: Get serious.