NCAA adds two years to Minnesota probation; cuts one scholarship

Tuesday, July 2nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The NCAA on Tuesday added two years to the University of Minnesota's probation and cut one scholarship for rule-breaking in the women's basketball program.

However, the university escaped the most severe possible penalty: a shutdown of the program, which could have been imposed under the NCAA's rules for repeat violators.

The violations occurred primarily in 1998 and 1999 under former coach Cheryl Littlejohn, and involved extra benefits, recruiting, ethical conduct and institutional control, the NCAA said.

University officials didn't immediately return calls seeking comment. A news conference was planned later Tuesday.

Earlier, a university investigation and subsequent NCAA report found evidence that Littlejohn had given $200 to $300 to a player, purchased clothes for others and encouraged players to lie to investigators.

Minnesota was already on four years' probation for academic cheating in the men's program, uncovered in 1999. That probation now will extend to October 2006.

Though one major violation occurred during the period when the university could have been classed as a repeat violator, the infractions committee chose not to impose repeat violator penalties.

The NCAA said it didn't process some potential violations quickly enough because of oversights by staff, and they probably would have been considered as part of the men's basketball case if they had been handled more quickly.

University officials had argued Littlejohn actually broke the rules before October 2000, when the initial probation began. They argued that self-imposed sanctions, such as cutbacks in recruiting visits and evaluation days, were sufficient punishment.

The NCAA said it took Minnesota's response into account, including its dismissal of Littlejohn.

Littlejohn, whose teams were 29-81 in four years, was fired before last season and now coaches at Chicago State.

Her replacement, Brenda Oldfield, turned the program around in her first season before being hired away by Maryland in April.

The search for her replacement was hampered by the looming NCAA sanctions and uncertainty over the school's next athletics director. Pam Borton, an assistant at Boston College for five years, was hired in May after two other candidates withdrew.

Borton inherits a team that was 22-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Among the returning starters are guard Lindsay Whalen, the Big Ten Player of the Year, and center Janel McCarville, the league's top freshman.

The cheating in the men's program emerged in 1999, when a former tutor said she wrote more than 400 pieces of coursework for players over several years.