Nothing Is Fab Now for Michigan

Times Staff Writer

The Michigan banners from the 1992 and '93 Final Fours are coming down in dishonor.

More than a decade after the beginnings of a booster scandal that allegedly led to $616,000 in loans and payments to Wolverine players, Michigan tried to hasten the end of the saga Thursday by announcing dramatic, self-imposed penalties.

Michigan will ban its men's basketball team from postseason play in 2003, return $450,000 in NCAA tournament income and forfeit victories from six seasons in which it used ineligible players. The university also will put the program on two years' probation and order the removal of four banners, including those from the 1997 National Invitation Tournament and '98 Big Ten tournament, from Crisler Arena.

The postseason ban, in reality, is not much of a penalty. With a team that was 11-18 last season, it probably will mean no more than turning down an NIT bid.

But expunging the records and lowering the banners recognizing the so-called "Fab Five" era led by Chris Webber -- the Sacramento King star who faces perjury charges related to the federal investigation of booster and convicted gambler Ed Martin -- is a blow to Michigan's image of itself.

"This is a day of great shame for the university," Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman said at a news conference Thursday.

"I am determined that nothing like this will ever happen again at Michigan.... Let me say once again, loud and clear: Integrity is Michigan's top priority."

The penalties stem from a series of investigations that began in 1996, eventually uncovering ties between Webber, Robert Traylor, Maurice Taylor and Louis Bullock to Martin, a retired autoworker who ran an illegal lottery.

Martin pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to launder money, admitting he took funds from the gambling operation and loaned them to players and their families beginning while some of the players were still in high school.

Martin said he gave $280,000 to Webber and his family, as well as smaller but still significant sums to Traylor ($160,000), Taylor ($105,000) and Bullock ($71,000.)

By imposing significant sanctions, Michigan is seeking to avoid harsher penalties from the NCAA, which issued a formal letter of inquiry last month. Michigan is awaiting a hearing with the infractions committee.

But because Michigan and the NCAA have worked unusually closely in the investigation and because much of the evidence carries the authority of federal proceedings, there might be less dispute about the facts and appropriate penalties than in other cases.

"You never know," Athletic Director Bill Martin said. "We trust that they will look at the sanctions that we have imposed. As President Coleman said, we looked at this situation in light of other infraction cases that occurred around the country. The penalties and sanctions that we imposed on ourselves are consistent with them and they are very serious. To me, taking down the banners really got to me this morning."

Michigan probably most wants to avoid scholarship reductions, because that would affect upcoming seasons and a coach and players years removed from the violations.

"We looked at the scholarship issue, but we didn't impose any scholarship reductions on the program for principally the reason that the NCAA looks at reduction of scholarships when there has been a recruitment infraction," Martin said. "This is not a recruitment infraction; this is an extra-benefit situation."

Tommy Amaker, beginning his second season as coach, said he is relieved to have at least the beginnings of a resolution. (Michigan will add two years to the five-year contract Amaker signed last year to compensate for the two-year probation.)

"Our kids [are] very disappointed and have every right to be," Amaker said. "They're also very mature and realize that they came to the university for a variety of reasons.

"Now that there is some clear direction, we feel very good about it. I think our kids feel some relief, but also some anger and disappointment."

With the season beginning later this month and recruiting at stake, Michigan still must await a decision by the NCAA on whether to accept the penalties or impose additional sanctions. That decision probably will come in early 2003.

"This isn't the last page of the story," Martin said. "But it is the beginning of the last chapter."

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