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NCAA rules bent at U.

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Numerous NCAA violations — most committed by the men's basketball program — have been uncovered in an investigation the University of Utah conducted of its own athletic department.

The infractions, which the university believes qualify as less-serious "secondary violations," range from a complementary meal for players at a tailgate party to free milk and cookies for players at film sessions.

The university released to the news media Saturday a hefty report detailing the results of its investigation. The finished report had been sent to the NCAA on Friday.

The investigation was launched shortly after former Utah ski coach Pat Miller threatened in April to file a lawsuit against the university, alleging he had been terminated for an NCAA violation far less serious than many others committed by athletic department personnel. Miller accused the university of violations involving fraudulent academic credit, tutoring and student eligibility.

Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill had declined to renew Miller's contract after learning that the award-winning coach falsified the academic record of a recruit.

Miller has since filed a lawsuit, but in the wake of its investigation, the university contends that Miller's allegations are false. It acknowledges there have been violations at the U., but it maintains those violations are less serious than the altering of an academic record.

"The allegations Pat Miller was making were extremely serious," said Fred Esplin, vice president for university relations. "There was nothing to them. They were simply rumors."

The investigation, conducted by a committee in tandem with the university's general counsel, included interviews with "nearly 100 current and former employees and student-athletes," the report says.

Among other things, the report's conclusion acknowledges that the university has given "too much deference and latitude" to the men's basketball program.

Most of the violations the university uncovered were "in the area of extra food items for student-athletes," the report says. Some of the benefits, however, ranged into the hundreds of dollars.

The violations included:

A complementary meal at a tailgate party for eight men's basketball players. The party was arranged by Mike Schneider, director of basketball operations, and attended by coach Rick Majerus and others on his staff.

Majerus, during the 1996-2000 seasons, giving players small amounts of money (usually $10) for snack items and movies.

Majerus paying for meals during one-on-one meetings with players.

Majerus providing food — juice, bagels, pizza, milk and cookies — for players during practice and film sessions.

Football and basketball players, acting as hosts, being given more than the NCAA-allowed $30 per day to entertain recruits.

More than one student-athlete host accompanying a recruit at a meal — often a barbecue at the home of a student-athlete or a tailgate party. (NCAA rules allow only one host per recruit.) Additionally, Schneider on some occasions submitted an inaccurate account of who was present at the meals.

A prospective recruit treated to a meal at a booster's home.

Three players receiving additional complementary tickets to a 1998 game at Long Beach State.

A player receiving an airline ticket to attend the funeral of a friend.

Majerus observing recruits in pickup games.

The report notes that some of the violations above had been resolved internally at the time they occurred but never reported to the NCAA.

Despite criticism of the latitude given the basketball program, the report's conclusion is that "in most areas of compliance, including eligibility, academics, recruiting and booster involvement, the athletics department has performed very well."

The report includes a lengthy list of "corrective measures and punitive actions," including written reprimands, improved education of athletic department personnel regarding NCAA rules and more thorough monitoring of recruiting practices.

In addition, Majerus will be required to pay his own way to an NCAA Regional Compliance Seminar and will have the number of days he can participate in off-campus recruiting reduced by 75 percent during the 2001-02 academic year.

Schneider will be suspended without pay for two weeks for submitting a report to the business office that he "knew, or should have known, to be false."

Written reprimands also will be issued to, among others, Hill; football coach Ron McBride; and Bill Hall, director of football operations.

Unlike the basketball program, which had far and away the most casual approach to NCAA rules, McBride's chief offense seems to have been a Thursday pizza night for staff members and some athletes.

Miller's ski program was also cited in the report as beneficiary of booster-provided bagels and other snack items before away contests, contrary to NCAA rules.

The NCAA still may opt to impose additional penalties on the athletic department or on specific programs. The college athletics governing body will now assign an investigator to the case who will interview people, probably over the next few weeks.

Esplin pointed out that it has been the NCAA's practice, when weighing penalties, to consider not only the infractions but a university's efforts to address those infractions.

"The NCAA will look at whether we were hard enough on ourselves," said university general counsel John Morris.

Majerus' response, issued as a written statement, was: "I accept full responsibility for the infractions mentioned in the university's self-report. My staff and I try to live within the rules. Anyone who knows me knows that my first priority is the welfare of my players. . . . This has often caused me to feel with my heart before I think with my head. Unfortunately, this has led to some rules infractions, which I regret."

University President J. Bernard Machen offered a vote of confidence for Majerus and Hill.

"Rick Majerus does a great job of bringing out the best in the young men he coaches," Machen said, also in a prepared statement. "He knows where he's dropped the ball and what he needs to do to make things right. Likewise, Chris Hill is an outstanding administrator with an excellent track record. He also knows where we've slipped up and is doing what he needs to correct these problems."

E-mail: rich@desnews.com