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Utah athletic director Mark Harlan expresses confidence in Larry Krystkowiak, staff despite NCAA sanctions

SALT LAKE CITY — In the wake of NCAA sanctions against the University of Utah men’s basketball program for recruiting violations, athletics director Mark Harlan expressed confidence in head coach Larry Krystkowiak.

The university announced that the “recruiting violations centered on a misreading of the NCAA calendar and a misinterpretation of the official visit limitations.”

Harlan deemed the mistakes as inadvertent and noted that Krystkowiak’s status was great after a thorough examination of the situation.

“I really appreciate Larry for the way he has handled this. No one was more broken up about this when he realized what had happened than Larry Krystkowiak,” Harlan said. “… In talking to him and others, there was no one more upset with himself than Larry. He has been way harder on himself than anything than I had done in this process.”

Utah issued a press release Tuesday stating that “the calendar oversight resulted in Utah coaches visiting a prospect at his high school during a period when in-person, off-campus recruiting was impermissible.” It noted that, otherwise, all institutional policies and procedures were followed.

According to Utah's explanation, the coaches also “inadvertently triggered an official visit when the same prospect made an unofficial visit to Utah in connection with his official visit to Salt Lake Community College.”

Although Utah carefully adhered to its understanding of the rules relating to unofficial visits when the prospect came to Salt Lake City, the NCAA classified the visit to Utah's campus as official, thus exceeding the number of permitted official visits for the recruiting period.

Krystkowiak issued a statement that the mistakes were inadvertent and unintentional.

"There was never an intent to circumvent any rules, we accept that they were violations and, as the head coach, I am accountable for them," Krystkowiak said. "I have always been a strong proponent of protecting the integrity of college basketball and that will not change.”

Krystkowiak reported the recruiting violations to the Utah compliance office as soon as he was aware of the mistakes that occurred in April 2018. The university self-imposed sanctions that included a two-year probation, a $5,000 fine, a one-week suspension for associate head coach Tommy Connor (served last November), reprimands for the coaches and recruiting limitations for off-campus and official visits. It also includes a one-year ban for interaction with SLCC coaches or the recruiting of any student-athletes from that program.

The self-imposed penalties include Connor not being able to recruit off-campus in July 2019 and the publishing of the circumstances of the violations in the team's media guide and the school’s athletics website.

The NCAA initially proposed the addition of a two-game suspension for Krystkowiak, but reversed the decision by ruling that “the violations were unintentional, limited and not indicative of systemic problems.”

Even so, the announcement of sanctions against the program were prominently displayed on ncaa.org.

“It’s certainly something you don’t want to have happen to your institution and you can’t run from the fact there were NCAA violations committed here,” Harlan said. “Again, there’s a big difference in inadvertent mistakes than perhaps some other examples we’ve seen in the country. So I’m very confident that with Larry’s integrity and the staff’s integrity we’ll be fine going forward.”

Harlan, who became Utah’s director of athletics shortly after the violations occurred, noted that the self-imposed penalties were appropriate — including the decision to sideline Connor for a week. Harlan added that Connor understood.

“I appreciate Tommy for the way he’s responded to this,” Harlan said. “Because you look for that in people. You make a mistake. How do you own it? How do you act after it? I really appreciate the way he’s handled all of it.”

Connor, who was contractually deemed as the next head coach in waiting, no longer has that designation.

“There was an agreement in 2015 that was in place for Tommy to be the coach in waiting. That no longer is in place,” confirmed Harlan, who declined to discuss any other specifics calling it a personnel matter between Connor and the institution.

“But I want to reiterate again my appreciation for Tommy, his work he’s done here at Utah, the way he’s responded to all this,” Harlan said. “We’re very happy that he’s part of the staff.”

The NCAA sanctions, which do not include any postseason ban, loss of scholarships or dismissals, are the latest to hit to a program that has had six players depart since last November and has not made the NCAA Tournament for three straight seasons.

Harlan is aware that fans may be concerned.

“What I’ve learned in this business is people have opinions about your programs. The passion that surrounds Utah basketball is something that we’re very proud of and we understand there are going to be opinions on this matter,” Harlan said. “At the end of the day, I believe Larry has the kind of integrity you want in a head coach. I think he’s a great teacher and leader of young men and we look forward to continuing on as him being our head coach.”

Krystkowiak, who has an overall record of 155-111 since coaching Utah into the Pac-12 in 2011, has a young team in 2019-20 following several player transfers. Naseem Gaskin recently entered the transfer portal, while Vante Hendrix (New Mexico), Jayce Johnson (Marquette), Charles Jones Jr. (Portland State), Christian Popoola (Salt Lake Community College) and Donnie Tillman (UNLV) have found new teams.

“I think, as I’ve said publicly before, transfers in college basketball is the new day. We’ve benefitted from transfers coming in. We certainly miss those that have left,” Harlan explained. “But we’ll continue to work with Larry and the staff on that, as we do with other coaches in our program that are dealing with transfers.”

Harlan then directed his comments back to the business at hand: Tuesday’s announcement by the NCAA.

“Today was really about putting the final piece of what has been a long infractions case. It’s nice to have it over,” Harlan said. “It’s also nice to reflect on, in fact, how cooperative Larry and his staff were.”