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Notre Dame football cheating echoes past U of M scandal

Williams Arena

As the University of Minnesota football team completes another mediocre season and awaits assignment to a post-season Bowl game, a much more prominent college football program has been rocked by a scandal that is not unfamiliar to Gopher athletics followers.

Marshall H. Tanick
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband
Marshall H. Tanick

The announcement last week by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which polices big-time college sports, that Notre Dame must forfeit its 21 football wins in 2012-13, including its stellar season in 2012 as runner-up for the national championship, because of academic misconduct, recalled a similar, but much more pervasive episode here at the 'U' some two decades ago, whose reverberations are still being felt in Dinkytown and surrounding environs.

The iconic Irish football program, which is appealing the sanctions, faces other penalties as well based upon a student trainer in its athletics department improperly doing course work for a pair of players. The violation of NCAA protocols is hardly the first — and, regrettably, probably not the last — of its type. Other schools have been accused, or found culpable, of much greater offenses for surreptitiously giving inappropriate academic aid to their athletes, such as one massive matter still in progress at North Carolina.

But the imbroglio at Notre Dame pales in comparison to the one that unraveled here with the championship U of M men's basketball team in the late 1990s. It began when Jan Gangelhoff, a nondescript adviser in the school's academic counseling unit, revealed that she had authored some 400 pieces of school work for about 20 players on that squad over a five-year period, including the 1996-97 team that cruised to the Big Ten championship and participated in the Final Four national title tournament.

Falling dominos

Her voluntary disclosure — prompted, she claimed, by her conscience — led to a number of falling dominos. The NCAA stripped the team of its victories and trophies for that unprecedented season, leaving the Gopher record book barren of all but memories. That penalty formed the precedent for the action taken by the NCAA against Notre Dame.

The Gophers' highly regarded coach, Clem Haskins, was fired, and he later had to repay more than half of a $1.5 million buyout he got when he was pushed out of his Cooke Hall office on campus. The basketball program, elevated by Haskins from a prior bad-behavior-by-players scandal in the 1980s, was decimated — and still, to this date, remains in recovery mode, having gone through number of coaches and losing seasons, although this season's Gopher squad, with only a single loss so far, may restore some of the luster to the venerated Williams Arena.

As for Gangelhoff, who passed away from cancer in 2005, the gaffe was life changing.

Belittled by administration

She initially was berated and belittled by university officials, including the president, Mark Yudof, and his staff and sycophants, who portrayed her (and her legal counsel, the late Jim Lord) as a lone wolf in the cheating scheme, and a traitorous ingrate for subsequently blowing the whistle and disclosing it. Her tarnished reputation,while somewhat replenished by ensuing revelations of more widespread complicity in what one player referred to as "common knowledge," was never restored.

The instigation by the federal government of a felony case against her didn't help, although the action was dismissed after U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul, who refused to accept her guilty plea, viewing her as the scapegoat for a much wider web of wrongdoing.

The agony of the Gangelhoff episode still haunts the university and some of the participants in it. Its recent reincarnation, albeit on a much smaller scale, at Notre Dame is a stark reminder of the old saying that "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Marshall H. Tanick is a Minneapolis employment law attorney.

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Comments (3)

the point

Is there a point here that Mr. Tanick wants to get to by rehashing ancient U of M history? Any reforms he think the program should have implement then or should implement now?

The loss

Omitted in this rehashing of the past is the real loss incurred by this incident -- the loss of Mark Dienhart and McKinley Boston.

If George Santayana will not do, how about Machiavelli?

There seems to be general agreement that the old saying cited by my fellow U of M alum, Marshall Tanick:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

is the philosopher George Santayana. Similar sayings can be found from people who lived both before and after. Probably because it is a timeless truth.

But then, if you don't think people who live in ivory towers know anything, how about a realist like Machiavelli?

"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."

Now there's a more positive spin on the reason for studying the past, foreseeing the future! And who among us wouldn't want to do that?

Thus it is a little disappointing to see Mr. Tanick's excellent piece cited as simply a "rehashing,"

After all, we have here one of the worst scandals in NCAA history. And what proper Gopher fan wouldn't want to bury the story?

Case Study: Minnesota's Basketball Scandal
link: http://www.unc.edu/~pmeyer/minn.html

In 1999, The St. Paul Pioneer Press uncovered a cheating scandal in the University of Minnesota's basketball program that turned out to be, in the university president's words, "one of the most serious cases of academic fraud ever reported to the NCAA."

...

"I called her, and she said, 'I was just thinking about you. I kind of have decided that you can ask me things, and I'll tell you the truth'."

Dohrmann lost no time in taking Gangelhoff up on her offer. "Did you do papers for the players?" he asked her. "Yes," she replied. He told her he'd be coming over tomorrow to talk.

Dohrmann drove to Danbury and sat down with his source and a tape recorder. Gangelhoff, he says, "is a reporter's dream. She writes stuff down. She has a great memory."

The story poured out. The size and shape of the NCAA infractions began to grow clearer to Dohrmann.

...

Garcia-Ruiz and Dohrmann spent hours in the sports editor's basement sifting through Gangelhoff's papers, reading them, comparing them. Soon they began to make telling discoveries: the same paper, turned in by two different players, years apart. Papers with exactly the same mistakes in them, turned in by one player and then another. It was clear that Gangelhoff's claims were solid. And they had the proof.

"That night, about 1 a.m., we knew we were good to go," said Garcia-Ruiz.

...

Monday phone calls to players had alerted Haskins and other university officials, one of whom angrily called Gangelhoff to ask her what in the world she had done. Clearly, they did not have the ease of conscience, the sense of security, they would have had if all had been reported.

...

The call to the president worked. Finally, at six in the evening the vice president for student development and athletics, McKinley Boston, called. Boston questioned the credibility of Gangelhoff's allegations, saying they were inconsistent with statements she'd made in the past.

...

Then Gov. Jesse Ventura entered the fray. At a press conference, he said what the Pioneer Press had done was "despicable." He accused the paper of rigging the timing so the story would come out right before the game, all for the sake of "sensationalism journalism."

Lundy says, "I just wish he'd found time to say that academic cheating is not a very good thing either."

...

To make matters even more dramatic, the behavior the Pioneer Press was setting forth was not the kind of thing Minnesotans thought went on in their midst. "Minnesotans are proud of the fact that we don't have that kind of stuff," acknowledges Lundy. "So, in the middle of this celebration, comes the Pioneer Press to piss all over everything, presenting this revered coach as a cheater and the players they loved as cheaters."

Worse yet, he said, "We really have only this one university, and the Pioneer Press was saying its academic mission is corrupt. It's a terribly rude thing to say."

...

Eight months after the story, the university released a report, prepared for it by a law firm, concluding that Clem Haskins had lied to investigators about "widespread academic misconduct" and had also told his players to lie. It criticized the athletic department, academic counseling supervisors and faculty members for allowing the cheating to occur. Hours before the release of the report, two other top athletic officials, McKinley Boston, the vice president for student development and athletics, along with the men's athletic director [Mark Dienhart] resigned.

From the NCAA report:

U. LACK OF INSTITUTIONAL CONTROL. [NCAA Constitution 2.1.1; 2.1.2; 2.8.1 and 6.01.1]

The scope and nature of the violations set forth in this report demonstrate a lack of appropriate institutional control and monitoring in the conduct and administration of the university's athletics programs in that it: (1) failed to control the men's basketball program and in particular its head coach; (2) failed to monitor the activities of the academic counselor and the secretary; and (3) failed to take adequate action to investigate possible academic fraud prior to publication of the story in the Pioneer Press.

And one last thing ...

Apparently, the "real loss" in this "incident" was the loss of Mr. Dienhart and Mr. Boston. Of course, there were hundreds of incidents. And relative to others involved in this story, their loss does not seem incommensurate with their lack of action in this matter.

University of Minnesota Basketball Scandal
link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Minnesota_basketball_scandal

Dienhart became an executive at US Bank after resigning as men's athletic director. He returned to higher education in 2001 as senior vice president for institutional advancement at his alma mater, the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He was later appointed as executive vice president and chief operating officer, serving until 2013 when he went to a foundation. Boston in 2004 became athletic director at New Mexico State University. [from which position he retired in 2014]