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In a Switch, UNLV Can Defend Title : NCAA decision: Given choice, school opts to play for 1991 championship. Rebels forgo live TV appearances and postseason play in 1991-92.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an unprecedented move, the NCAA lifted its sanction prohibiting the University of Nevada Las Vegas from defending its national title in basketball.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions had ruled in July that UNLV would be prohibited from postseason play after the 1990-91 season as a final penalty stemming from the infractions case that caused UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian to take the NCAA to court 13 years ago.

However, in a ruling released Thursday, the committee offered UNLV two alternative penalties, both of which allowed the Rebels to participate in postseason competition at the end of the current season.

School officials immediately announced that they would accept one of the alternative penalties, which will prohibit the Rebels from making live television appearances during the 1991-92 season and competing in postseason play in 1992.

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The other penalty offered by the committee called for UNLV to be banned from postseason competition in 1992 and Tarkanian to be suspended during postseason competition in 1991.

The alternative penalties are similar to, but somewhat stronger than, those offered by Tarkanian and UNLV officials at a meeting with the committee on Oct. 28 in Chicago.

In losing its right to appear on TV or play in the NCAA tournament in 1992, UNLV will suffer in trying to balance its athletic budget. UNLV basketball made about $1.5 million during its championship season of 1989-90. However, because of the NCAA’s new distribution formula for tournament revenue, UNLV would make significantly less even with another run to the Final Four.

UNLV’s acceptance of one of the alternative penalties effectively ends the bitter legal fight Tarkanian has waged against the NCAA since the organization ordered UNLV to suspend him 13 years ago. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in the NCAA’s favor.

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Faced with the threat of further legal action by both Tarkanian and UNLV players, the committee offered the alternative penalties as a means of putting the matter to rest.

In its ruling Thursday, the committee wrote: “The committee emphasizes that it is making these two alternatives available to the university because it believes it is in the best interest of all concerned for this lengthy dispute to end, and either one of these alternatives . . . offers the university a fair and reasonable way of ending the dispute.”

At a news conference, UNLV President Robert Maxson described both alternative penalties as being fair and said the university would accept the penalty banning TV appearances and postseason play for the 1991-92 season.

“We regret that next year’s team is not eligible (for postseason competition),” Maxson said. “But we felt it was terribly important that our national champions be allowed to defend their title.”

The Rebels, ranked No. 1 in most preseason polls, have four starters back from the team that overwhelmed Duke, 103-73, last April 2 to win UNLV’s first NCAA title. Among the returning starters are star forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, both of whom almost certainly would have been first-round picks in last spring’s NBA draft had they not decided to return to UNLV for their senior seasons.

In a prepared statement issued at Vancouver, Canada, where the Rebels are scheduled to open their season Saturday against Alabama Birmingham, Tarkanian said his legal battle with the NCAA was finished and added: “I’m pleased for the kids and fans that we will be allowed to compete. Let’s put these matters behind us and look to the season ahead and defending our national championship.”

Still to be resolved, however, is a three-year-old preliminary inquiry into the UNLV program that stems from the school’s recruitment of former New York high school star Lloyd Daniels.

At Thursday’s news conference, Maxson said the school expects to receive a letter of official inquiry, outlining charges against UNLV, in about two weeks.

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According to Maxson, the charges have been ready for some time, but the NCAA agreed, at UNLV’s request, not to send them to the school until the 1977 case was resolved.

Once it receives the charges, UNLV will have up to 90 days to draft a response before appearing in front of the infractions committee.

In the 1977 case, the NCAA had placed UNLV on two years’ probation with sanctions that included two-year bans on postseason competition and television appearances. The NCAA also ordered the school to “show cause” why it shouldn’t suspend Tarkanian for two years or be penalized further.

Of 38 rules violations documented by the NCAA in the case, 10 involved Tarkanian directly, including one in which he was cited for trying to coerce a former UNLV player into lying to NCAA investigators.

Believing that his constitutional right of due process had been violated by NCAA enforcement procedures, Tarkanian obtained injunctions in District Court in Las Vegas against both UNLV and the NCAA preventing any action on the “show cause” order involving him.

The case, hinging on the question of whether the NCAA should be considered a governmental body whose actions must meet constitutional due process requirements, was heard by the Supreme Court in December 1988, and the court ruled, 5-4, in the NCAA’s favor.

Legal maneuvering led to a District Court order last March removing Tarkanian’s injunction against the NCAA, but allowing his injunction against the school to stand.

Free to act on the 1977 “show cause” order, the current committee on infractions met with Tarkanian and UNLV officials in June.

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At the hearing, UNLV representatives asked that the committee take no action against the university under the “show cause” order, citing the “hardship” of the 13 years of litigation.

But the committee saw the matter differently and imposed the ban on postseason play for 1991, making UNLV only the second school barred from defending its title in basketball because of NCAA sanctions. Kansas was barred from postseason competition because of NCAA sanctions after winning its national championship in 1988.

On Oct. 2, a week before UNLV was scheduled to appeal the committee’s decision to the NCAA Council, school officials announced that they had been granted another hearing by the committee to allow them to present new information on the matter.

At the Oct. 28 hearing in Chicago, UNLV presented four alternative penalties:

--Tarkanian would sit out the 1991 NCAA tournament, forfeit his personal stake (10%) in the school’s tournament revenue and abstain from recruiting for a year.

--Tarkanian would sit out the 1991 and ’92 tournaments.

--UNLV would not compete in the ’92 tournament.

--UNLV would make no network TV appearances during the 1991-92 season, reduce its scholarships by two and official visits by nine during the 1991-92 school year and allow no off-campus recruiting by any basketball staff member for a year.

Much of the outcry at UNLV against being banned from postseason play in ’91 focused on the fact that athletes who were barely in elementary school at the time the 1977 case was processed would be unfairly punished by such a penalty. The committee took note of this position in its report Thursday but said the matter still called for some kind of postseason sanction.

The committee cited the fact that the delay in carrying out the “show cause” order was caused by Tarkanian’s litigation and noted that the NCAA’s ability to enforce the order, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision, was widely publicized.

Had UNLV proposed at the June hearing the alternative penalties it suggested in October, the report stated, “the committee would have considered them and possibly . . . adopted penalties . . . that would have been similar to the ones the committee has adopted in this report.”

Times staff writer Elliott Almond contributed to this story.


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