2003: Minnesota probes compliance issues

The wild ride that began last spring for the Minnesota men’s golf program has taken several more surprising twists and turns in the past several weeks.

The latest developments include a pair of letters that contained allegations of NCAA rules infractions, a successful fund-raising telethon and an anonymous donor’s pledge that all but guarantees the program will continue.

In April 2002, the school announced cost-cutting plans that would have eliminated Minnesota’s men’s and women’s golf programs as well as men’s gymnastics. A week later, those programs were given a one-year reprieve through the 2002-03 season, but were faced with the task of raising approximately $2.7 million to keep them afloat.

Despite the turmoil and distractions, the men’s golf team captured the NCAA Division I Championship last June.

But things turned a bit sour last fall.

In September, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi received an anonymous letter that alleged wrongdoing by coach Brad James.

Even though the letter was not made public, Maturi said that the school’s compliance department began looking into the matter.

In mid-December, Maturi received another letter, this one attributed to Bill Emo, who played for the Gophers in 1989-90. This time, copies of the letter were sent to local news media, the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Big Ten golf coaches.

After talking with Emo, Maturi said he was convinced the former Gophers golfer, now living in Atlanta, did not send the letter, which listed Emo with a New York address.

“I feel quite certain he was not the one who sent the letter,” Maturi said. “But it does seem as though someone has an ax to grind against Brad and the golf program. I don’t think there is any question about that because of the way it was done.”

The letter contained a list of 10 alleged infractions, which included golf team members receiving free trips to Nebraska to play Sand Hills Golf Club with a university booster and players receiving free golf during a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., during Christmas break in 2001.

James, an Australian, was interim coach last spring and was given the job full time after winning the NCAA title.

“We (he and Maturi) decided for me not to make any comments at this time,” said James. “All I can say is it’s very sad and obviously someone is very bitter.”

Devon Brouse, head coach at Purdue, was among those receiving the letter and said after talking with some other Big Ten coaches, Brouse said most agreed that “it looks like someone has a vendetta and is out to get Brad.”

Still, according to Maturi and assistant media relations director Kyle Coughlin, the allegations are continuing to be investigated.

“To my knowledge, nothing has been found so far, and I won’t comment until there is proof (of wrongdoing),” Maturi said.

Added Coughlin: “There are no primary or major violations in the allegations, and to my knowlege all the allegations are secondary infractions. At this point none of the allegations have come to be fact. We have found nothing that was done improperly and have no reason to believe anything was done improperly.”

The NCAA normally declines comment on allegations of rules infractions until it receives an official report from a school’s internal investigation.

Amid all the turmoil, the school’s men’s and women’s golf and men’s gymnastics programs received a major boost earlier this month.

Although a mid-December telethon on KARE-TV raised approximately $675,000, it still left the three programs about $500,000 short of the $2.7 million needed by Feb. 1 for them not to be eliminated. Another $150,000 had been generated after the telethon.

Maturi then received a call the first week of January from an anonymous out-of-state donor who pledged to match money raised from the time of his call to Feb. 1, making Maturi almost certain of reaching the goal in time.

“This is huge,” Maturi said. “I hope people respond, knowing that every dollar they give is really $2. I’m really confident now that we’ll get there.”

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