Friday, December 17, 2010

SPORTS>>For record, ASU taking a whipping

By todd traub

Leader sports editor

My parents always liked to speak in euphemisms.

No one they knew ever died; they always “passed away.” They never knew any old people either, just “older” people, and my Dad never lost his temper when the lawn mower broke, he just got “a little excited.”

So it is that Arkansas State is not forfeiting anything after submitting its summary disposition report to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The university is simply “voiding victories,” for allowing improperly certified athletes to participate during some of the school’s most successful recent seasons.

A little background — more than two years ago, Arkansas State discovered possible violations pertaining to whether athletes in multiple sports were meeting NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements.

It was apparently a case of human error on the certification side of the house, and the school reported itself to the NCAA on Aug. 25, 2008. The ensuing investigation revealed 31 athletes in six sports were improperly certified.

The upshot, as Arkansas State revealed Monday, is a series of university-imposed penalties that includes a $43,500 fine, a two-year probationary period, a reduction of one scholarship each in football and men’s basketball for the next two seasons and the aforementioned “voiding” of victories in football, baseball, men’s basketball and women’s soccer dating to 2005.

I don’t know how “voiding,” in this case, differs from “forfeiting” and it could just simply be someone’s choice of words. As usual, Arkansas State is not commenting further.

Either way, Arkansas State has to give up four football victories from 2005, when it went 6-5 and won a share of the Sun Belt championship and reached its first and only NCAA Division I-A bowl game. The school is voiding six victories from 2006, when it went 6-6.

That has to be a bitter pill for outgoing coach Steve Roberts, who resigned at the end of the season and now sees his best years at Arkansas State tarnished as he heads out the door.

The basketball team is voiding 15 victories from 2006-07, Dickey Nutt’s last good season when the team was 18-15 and reached the final of the Sun Belt Tournament. Basketball voided all 12 victories from 2005-06.

Baseball loses three victories from 2006-07 and soccer gives up five from 2005-06.

Every coach from these stricken teams is gone now, not that they had anything to do with the improper certification. The NCAA agrees there was no intentional effort to deceive or cheat on the university’s part, and remember Arkansas State voluntarily proposed these rather harsh punishments.

What a tough holiday season for the Red Wolves huh?

Unlike in other states, where there is room for more than one major college program in the population’s heart, Arkansas State always seems to find itself behind the eight-ball when trying to pull itself up to the level of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

This latest misadventure doesn’t help.

While things are looking up in Hogland — a BCS bowl for the first time and a contract extension to keep program-jumping coach Bobby Petrino from jumping elsewhere — this is a bleak period for Arkansas State.

The Red Wolves are starting over with a new football coach as Hugh Freeze was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Roberts. The basketball team showed promise last year under coach John Brady, but the Wolves, in Brady’s third season, have gotten off to an uncertain, 3-6 start.

I covered Arkansas State for close to 10 years while with the statewide daily and I know the athletic program is run by decent people who would not willfully cheat. I also know that as bad as things get, Arkansas State has a way of rolling up its sleeves and going to work.

The football program that was losing regularly to NCAA Division I-AA teams now expects to win at least six and be bowl eligible every year. The basketball team that reached the NCAA Tournament under Nutt in 1999 got as close as it has in a few years under Brady with 17 victories last season, including a first-round Sun Belt Tournament victory over the rival UALR Trojans.

I’ve been critical of Arkansas State in this space in the past, both for how it handled Roberts’ contract extension, or lack of one, and the way it brings down the cone of silence when trouble exactly like this takes place, and I don’t intend to be a Pollyana now.

But hey, Red Wolves, maybe the worst is behind you. You knew this was coming and now it’s over and the past, though revised, is the past.

At least you didn’t get the NCAA’s death penalty.

Sorry, I meant “passing away” penalty.