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.
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.
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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