Utah Is Penalized for Rules Violations

Times Staff Writer

This is a tale of NCAA rules enforcement that is as rich as New York cheesecake.

Utah basketball Coach Rick Majerus was penalized Wednesday for providing excessive meals and meal money to basketball players, among other violations.

It is a case -- known as "Foodgate" in Utah -- that posed a particular challenge to the NCAA.

"These were not five-course meals or steak meals at the finest restaurant in town," said Thomas Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Assn. and chairman of the NCAA infractions committee that put Utah on three years' probation and imposed recruiting and scholarship limits but stopped short of a postseason ban.

"This would be like Fatburger or Pink's hot dogs," said Majerus, who characterized many of the meals as counseling sessions, including one with Keith Van Horn after the player's father died.

"I guess the only thing I should have done was said, 'You owe me nine dollars for the ham and eggs and sausage.' I've got to think with my head and not with my heart."

Majerus was snared in part because he has lived in a hotel for many years. Rules have allowed for occasional meals at a coach's home, but because Majerus didn't have a home he believed it was acceptable to take players out -- a practice that is now allowed after a rule change.

"The coach has a unique living style, and in some instances thought there were real gray areas," Yeager said.

In citing Utah for lack of institutional control, the NCAA issued a long list of violations, including an instance of academic fraud in the football program after a tutor wrote papers for two football players.

The investigation grew out of charges by former ski coach Pat Miller after the coach's contract was not renewed because of NCAA infractions that other Utah coaches had committed.

Most of the infractions involved the basketball program, and Yeager noted a "cavalier and lackadaisical" attitude by Majerus toward rules compliance.

Other violations over a period that included part of UCLA assistant coach Donny Daniels' tenure as a Utah assistant included the distribution of small sums of cash such as $10 for "movie money," as well as improperly watching recruits play pick-up games and exceeding NCAA limits on practice hours.

In addition, in 2001, former forward Phil Cullen received a $510 airline ticket to attend the funeral of a friend and later repaid the school, but he was improperly allowed to play before the issue was resolved.

As a result of the investigation, the university froze Majerus' salary for two years and penalized the basketball program by one scholarship for the 2005 and 2006 seasons, among other self-imposed sanctions.

The NCAA, in addition to the probation and a public reprimand and censure, penalized the program one scholarship in 2007 as well.

"I've been a college coach 33 years and never got a letter from the NCAA," Majerus said. "Our program academically speaks for itself.... We have no behavioral problems.

"What I'm saying is, here's the details. Judge for yourself. I don't want to go on a whiny defense. I just feel exhausted."

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