Minnesota Daily investigates Gopher wrestling program

Last week, I enthused over City Pages bringing on the Minnesota Daily’s Andy Mannix for a six-month gig. Thursday, Mannix’s byline was on an fascinating Minnesota Daily investigation into the perennially powerful Gopher wrestling program.

While there’s no Jan Ganglehoff here, Mannix discovered Gopher wrestlers buying up millions of dollars of property around the U, re-selling it to program members, possibly in violation of NCAA rules. That depends on whether team members received “extra benefits”; despite one athlete’s statement that real estate came up in the recruiting process, and a program-clearing U internal investigation two years ago, this reader left unclear about violations.

But even short of a hanging offense, the Daily story is great and entertaining enterprise journalism, full of wonderful details like “entrepreneurial” coach/landlord J Robinson’s efforts to hire an armored car and a map of the wrestlers’ real estate empire.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/10/2009 - 08:38 am.

    This story is nearly all speculation.

    “…possibly in violation of NCAA rules.” ? Is there a scintilla of evidence that any NCAA rules were violated? Please point out a single instance if you can find one. Call me old-fashioned, but I think you, and the “journalists” at the Daily, NEED that scintilla before promoting a story like this.

    Suspicions are the main point of the story. Don’t they bother teaching these “journalists” anymore that they ought to have some substance in hand before attempting an expose’? Or is this kind of thinking a relic of the past? They have succeeded in creating a titillating story, “entertaining”, as you say, but no more.

    If they have some factual substance to their accusations – fine, go ahead with an expose’ and let the chips fall where they may.

    Until then, stories like this are virtually defamatory.

  2. Submitted by Dan Browning on 12/10/2009 - 10:56 am.

    Good story! Thanks for the refer, David.

  3. Submitted by Emma Carew on 12/10/2009 - 11:40 am.

    I think it needs to be pointed out here that the real props should be to the severely under-credited former Daily reporter, who spent his entire senior year working on the front-end reporting here — Mark Remme.

    It’s a shame the Daily didn’t give him the full byline he deserved on this one.

  4. Submitted by tom moore on 12/10/2009 - 12:24 pm.

    i can rest a little bit easier tonight knowing that the Daily has uncovered the practice of coaches selling college rental properties at market rates to their former athletes who then rent them to current athletes at rates other students pay for comparable units.

    one coach even sold a property to a former player FOR THE SAME PRICE HE PAID FOR IT. if it was done recently, he’s gouging the buyer, of course.

    and i’m glad they put the coaches’ photos up in full color and giant sized on the cover of the paper – will beware if one tries to rent me a room that he might also rent to – gasp – wrestlers.

    seriously: the people “exposed” here may have been naive or sloppy in their dealings, but they weren’t breaking the spirit of ANY law, even probably none of the NCAA’s billion rules on any and everything one can imagine. they may have been breaking the letter of one or two of the latter, but it’s hardly worth the national enquirer style “expose” on the cover and/or the ensuing, year-long investigation that will just lead to some honest, hard working people selling off properties or worrying about covering a (otherwise on the up-and-up) money and tax trail should it come to an audit or what-not.

    coach owns a property. kid need a place. he rents to him at market rate. shouldn’t be a story. sheesh.

  5. Submitted by Peter Frost on 12/10/2009 - 12:37 pm.

    “This story is nearly all speculation.”

    Huh? It’s definitely not between the eyes, but it’s a wing shot. The main premise of the story appears to be that the wrestling program has become very involved in real estate in the University area. The paper raises the question of whether any of this violated NCAA rules. Maturi says it needs more investigation. Other collegiate athletics officials say it requires a looking-into. They even got a student to admit real estate was discussed during his recruitment. All of this appears to be based on real-estate records.

    After this story, let’s see where the chips fall. Of course, it’s hard to say it’s an NCAA rules violation until the NCAA rules that it’s a rules violation.

    After the first read, looks like pretty good enterprise, if you ask me.

    Full disclosure, I worked for the Daily for a couple of years ending in 2001.

  6. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 12/10/2009 - 12:39 pm.

    Hey Steve, what weight do you wrestle at?

    The story was pretty clear that there was smoke, but no fire. And while the actions may not have been clear violations, they did raise questions. If there was nothing there, why did Robinson lie to the reporter? That type of conduct only fuels speculation. I thought the story was completely fair.

    But I guess Steve’s the kind of guy who would prefer the Petter’s case not hit the newsstand until the jury reached its verdict.

  7. Submitted by Aaron Kirscht on 12/10/2009 - 02:29 pm.

    Where’s the speculation, Steve? The word “NCAA” didn’t appear until the 17th paragraph.

    Perhaps J Robinson and his coaches have done nothing wrong. But the number of properties involved, and the people to whom the properties were sold, makes it odd. Newsworthy, even.

    At any rate, your own bias was evident in your decision to put quotes around “journalists” when referring to the Daily reporters. It seems silly to demean those who have done their due diligence while you sit back and … do whatever it is you do.

    Full disclosure: I was the Daily’s editor in chief in ’99-’00.

  8. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/10/2009 - 03:37 pm.

    #7: I wouldn’t call this due diligence, that’s my point. When smearing someone, I think you ought to state a factual basis, not mere suspicion or innuendo. That’s when I start putting quotes around the word journalist. But then I’m using different standards than you – we disagree on what a journalist should be doing, and how.

    #6: You’ve suggested a comparison between the Petters case and this story in the Daily? Is there any meaningful comparison between the two? The first I read about the Petters case was a story that business financial documents had been faked. Now there’s an alleged fact which does more than raise suspicion, it would be material to a fraud – and definitely worth a story. Comparing with Petters makes no sense at all to me.

    I asked above for a single instance of an NCAA rules violation (the strong implication of the article – in fact without this implication, there is hardly any basis for a story at all), and I see the retorts here are silent on that point.

  9. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/10/2009 - 10:56 pm.

    It is interesting that many people seem to be going after the Daily journalists for smearing the wrestling folks in the Daily article.

    Joel Maturi has indicated that he is concerned about the matter and the General Counsel, Mark Rotenberg, has announced that the U will be starting an investigation of the matter.

    Why don’t we let this happen and see how it all turns out? If the U finds anything they are obligated to turn it over to the NCAA.

    As far as what regulations have been broken, there is a rule that athletes are not allowed to get special benefits not available to other students. It is possible that this may have happened, why don’t we find out? In the end, looking into this rather than screaming “smear” is the right thing to do.

  10. Submitted by Thomas Edman on 12/11/2009 - 07:48 am.

    Students are buying real-estate? Wow. When I was in school, buying textbooks was a stretch.

  11. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 12/11/2009 - 08:18 am.

    I’m inclined to agree with Professor Gleason on this one. Let’s let the process work. As I recall, there were many passionate defenders of Clem Haskins, too, until more details about his program were exposed.

  12. Submitted by tom moore on 12/11/2009 - 09:19 am.

    the Daily obviously wasn’t concerned mainly about just bringing these issues to the athletic department’s attention and then “letting the process play out”. Otherwise, why the sensational cover with giant, color photos of the head coach and three assistant/former coaches?

    There is no “smoking gun” in the article. Yes, it’s interesting that the people involved with the wrestling team are so heavily involved in off campus housing (one, anecdotal example of this elsewhere from off the top of my head: former Duke basketball players own a TON of property around the Durham campus – they have probably even bought and sold among themselves – and would probably rent to current players if they didn’t already have posh housing provided for them) That (the fact that the program is associated with off campus real estate) could have been a story – and a third of it could have been, “so, is any of this against NCAA rules?”. And that would have been an angle of the larger story.

    But the story in the Daily is presented as a self-congratulatory “gotcha” piece with no, direct evidence of ANY wrongdoing. none.

    If the defense of any investigative article that has an accusatory tone is “well, if they did nothing wrong, the process will bear it out”, then that justifies pretty much any, personal attack, yellow journalism piece one can come up with. “does so and so beat his kids? they have bruises on their knees that he claims are from bicycle falls. and he wouldn’t answer questions for our story.” and then the defense of the article would be “we’ll let the police investigate and see how the process plays out.”

    lame, lame, lame.

  13. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/11/2009 - 10:14 am.

    The general subject I raised above was the quality of journalism represented by the Daily story – not the wrestling program, its coach or former wrestlers, not the outcome of the U’s investigation, not Clem Haskins nor Tom Petters.

    Some here have suggested the “let’s not draw any conclusion about the Daily’s journalism until we see the result of the investigation” approach. This would seem to suggest that if rules violations are discovered and consequences ensue, then that would be proof the story represents a good quality of journalism. (The U counsel in the matter has assured us there WILL be consequences in this case if NCAA rules were violated, and of course there OUGHT to be consequences if so!)

    So why not consider the other possible outcome?

    What if the U’s investigation absolves all the parties named in the story, and is proved baseless? What then about the quality of journalism displayed here? My suspicion – and it’s only that, because they’ve spoken nary a word along this line – is that the loyal defenders of the Daily would maintain that it was a fine quality of journalism either way, with or without foundation, baseless or not. If that is their view, I respectfully disagree.

    I’ll say it again: if you’re making allegations like this, I feel you ought to have SOME kind of evidence of it, some basis in fact, even if minor – not mere suspicion. Otherwise, it’s terribly unfair. Does fairness still count? Do they teach the value of fairness at journalism schools? In the case of this alternative outcome, the parties branded with suspicion are defamed – they are harmed in spite of doing nothing wrong.

  14. Submitted by Jon Collins on 12/11/2009 - 04:56 pm.

    The idea that it’s only decent journalism if the U’s investigation comes out against the wrestling program is bullshit.

    The U would not have investigated had this story not been published, right?

    (The evidence that those associated with the wrestling program bought up tons of property which they then sold to wrestlers IS documented. The only speculation in the article is to WHY wrestlers bought so much, an issue those involved could close quickly if they had a good answer.)

  15. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 12/11/2009 - 05:07 pm.

    Sorry, Tom and Steve, but I have to respectfully disagree with you.

    From the original article:

    University Athletics Director Joel Maturi expressed surprise at the number of properties that have been owned by people with ties to the team in a recent interview with The Minnesota Daily.

    “To say to you that I’m not concerned would not be entirely accurate,” Maturi said.

    When asked about a number of specific transactions, Maturi repeatedly said they needed to be looked into by the University’s Athletic Compliance Office.

    When Robinson was asked about real estate transactions conducted with former wrestlers, he first denied that any had taken place.

    “I haven’t sold any houses to anybody, and they haven’t bought any houses from me, so there’s no story there,” Robinson said.

    When asked specifically about a house he sold to former wrestler Luke Becker four months after Becker graduated, Robinson acknowledged the sale had taken place, but he said “there’s nothing there.”

    In a later interview, Robinson declined to answer specific questions for this story.

    “You’re making something out of nothing, and I have no reason to say anything,” Robinson said.

    “You’re going to slant it the way you want to slant it.”

    ++++++++

    Sorry, but there is enough here to indicate that it needs looking into. If the Daily had not brought this situation to light, do you think anything would have happened about it? Sad to say, I doubt it.

    Doesn’t what J initially said concern you even a little?

    And Clem Haskins is, indeed relevant here. If it had not been for the Pioneer Press that situation might also have been covered up.

    So settle down. Let’s look into it. J is a tough guy. Believe me, if there is nothing to it, he can take it and will come out saying I told you so…

    Calling Daily journos mudslingers in this case is inappropriate. Let the chips fall.

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