The day winning became big business

Whoever said you have to cheat to win probably graduated from the University of Minnesota.

Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but the Golden Gophers' athletic program is the latest poster child for winning at all costs. An investigation by an independent law firm culminated with a damaging report released Friday, citing the Minnesota athletic program with serious violations against both NCAA rules and common sense.

The allegations stem from the testimony of Jan Gangelhoff, a former office manager in the university's academic counseling unit. She claims to have written more than 400 papers for as many as 20 basketball players between 1993 and 1998, with the full knowledge of then-Gophers head coach Clem Haskins.

Gangelhoff said she wrote the papers so the players could remain academically eligible to play basketball. Two members of the Minnesota athletic department resigned hours before the report was released, and another two won't have their contracts renewed when they expire at the end of June.

Haskins resigned under pressure in June, three months after the first allegations in the scandal were made, but he got a nice $1.5 million buyout of his contract. But the report fingers him with the more serious allegations, painting him as the puppet master overseeing a wave of academic fraud.

During each one of those five seasons, the Gophers played in the NCAA postseason tournament with a player that should have been ineligible, the report says.

Minnesota president Mark Yudof, who already banned his team from the postseason two months ago, said he expects the NCAA to find that the university lost institutional control.

What this means for Minnesota student-athletes, nobody knows.

The program could get probation, which is unlikely, or it could see official postseason bans extended. If the NCAA finds that Minnesota indeed lost institutional control of its athletic department, the sanctions it places on the school could affect more programs than just basketball.

A department-wide investigation could follow. If other programs committed even the tiniest of infractions, you better believe they'll be blown up bigger than they normally would be.

We should be shocked that a Division I coach might have orchestrated a way for his players to cheat, all in the name of winning. Not only do such actions violate NCAA rules, but also the very reason that universities exist in the first place.

You go to school to learn and get a degree, not play basketball. Anyone who thinks a school should exist for any other purpose is dead wrong. If you only want to play ball, declare yourself eligible for the NBA draft.

But are these allegations the problem, or a symptom of a bigger one?

The pressure to win is greater than ever. A Cinderella run though last year's tournament put Gonzaga basketball on the map. It opened doors to better recruits, leading to better exposure - and what university couldn't use more exposure?

It's easy to see why the lines get blurry for coaches nowadays, but it's still inexcusable.

To some degree, we can't go back.

College athletics have become a big-time business in the past 10 years, and to institute serious reform the NCAA would have to sacrifice a major cash cow.

Just this past week, CBS signed a seven-year extension to televise the NCAA tournament. The payoff? Nearly $400 million a year - and that's just for basketball. That doesn't count all the money that comes from college football bowl games.

If the money were to go away, so would many of the problems. That might sound a bit idealistic, but keep in mind that Gangelhoff herself said she felt pressured to do the wrong thing for a program that seemed bigger than the university itself.

That's a money problem, not a control problem.

Fifty years ago, scandal in intercollegiate athletics was rare. With all the money being thrown around these days, scandal is just another news story.

Jeremy Littau is the Nevada Appeal sports editor.


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