SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
March 22, 1993
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March 22, 1993


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Some thought that when coach Jerry Tarkanian was forced to resign by UNLV president Robert Maxson last year, the Rebel basketball program would cease making a mockery of the giant billboard in Las Vegas that reads UNLV—A RISING STAR IN HIGHER EDUCATION. But the latest Rebel scandal suggests that UNLV didn't discover academic integrity the day Tark left.

A summer-session instructor, Vicki Bertolino, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal last week that she had been pressured into giving UNLV senior forward J.R. Rider, the nation's second-leading scorer, a grade in a correspondence course for which she didn't receive all of Rider's work. The paper also reported that some of his work may have been done by someone else. All of which caused glee among Tarkanian's numerous loyalists in Vegas, many of whom are scornful of Maxson and of Tark's successor, Rollie Massimino.

The university declared almost immediately that it had investigated the allegations and found them groundless, though on Monday, at the urging of one of its regents, the school agreed to reopen the investigation. It's hard to see how UNLV could have been so quick to dismiss the charges in the face of such damning evidence. The Review-Journal obtained copies of Rider's papers for the Bertolino course—English 102, which he took from the Community College of Southern Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base branch—including one in which the handwriting on one page is different from writing on a second page. On another paper Bertolino wrote, "In comparing it to your other work...I question who wrote this. Since I have no way of disproving it is your work, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt; but having taught for five years at UNLV, I know how athlete's tutors write athlete's papers." Also, on three of Rider's papers his first name, Isaiah, is misspelled Isiah.

Asked whether he had done all of the course work himself, Rider refused to answer. "I've got a better question," he said. "How come you write about this, but you don't write about all my 30-point games?"

The 6'5" Rider, who takes a 29.2 average into the NIT for the 21-7 Rebels, has had 16 games of 30 points or more this season. Small wonder that Massimino wanted him back for his senior year. But after the 1992 spring term, Rider needed 15 credits to be eligible, three more than students are normally allowed to take in summer school. He carried such a load even though he seemed particularly unsuited for the task. His two years at UNLV after transferring from Antelope Valley Junior College in California in-eluded a semester in which, according to the Review-Journal, he earned only one credit. In another semester he passed a course, Prevention and Management of Premenstrual Syndrome, in which attendance was mandatory. The professor said that Rider attended all the classes, but the Review-Journal reported that two of the classes occurred on nights when Rider was playing in Rebel road games. Accordingly, when UNLV played Utah State in the Big West tournament last Friday in Long Beach, Calif., spectators taunted Rider with chant of "How do you spell PMS?"

Somehow Rider earned the 15 summer credits, including three for Bertolino's course Bertolino says that Rebel basketball assistant Tom Pecora and compliance officer Jaina Preston called her repeatedly in November to pressure her. Several calls came on her beeper while she was visiting her husband in an intensive care unit after he had suffered a heart attack. Pecora and Preston deny they pressured Bertolino. But Bertolino says, "By pressure, I mean the repeated calling while my husband was in the hospital, always to ask the same question: 'Is J.R. going to pass?' " Bertolino says she told them that she hadn't received all of Rider's work. But on Dec. 29 she gave him a C-, a passing grade, which she regrets. "I should have given him an incomplete," she says. "But with everything that was going on with my husband and the calls from people at UNLV, I just wanted to put the whole thing behind me."

Which, of course, is what Maxson and Massimino—who said he had "no reaction" to the allegations—were trying to do. "The athletic department has handled all of this properly," Maxson said. "There is nothing embarrassing about this."

Maybe UNLV has simply lost the capacity to be embarrassed.

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