On Thursday, the St. Mary’s Gaels wildly successful basketball program was devastated by the news that NCAA found a ‘failure to comply’ and will be facing four years of sanctions.
It was a story that seemed too good to be true: Randy Bennett, after spending years as an assistant at various schools, was finally given the chance to tackle a head coaching job of his own. The man did not care about the fact that the St. Mary’s program he was inheriting had finished 2-27 in 2000, the year before he arrived. Nor did he care about the fact that his team’s gym was barely fit for a decent high school team, let alone a Division I squad.
Finally, Bennett did not care that, when his Gaels started winning games, more high-profile programs began knocking at his door. Through all of the offers and all of the victories, Bennett remained steadfast in his employment with the small, San Francisco-based Catholic school.
St. Mary’s and fellow WCC powerhouse Gonzaga are the only two schools in the nation to win at least 25 games each of the past six seasons. However, as it turns out, the story of Bennett’s successful run with the Gaels has been far too good to be true.
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the NCAA’s investigation into the University of Miami has been the governing body’s probe into Bennett’s recruiting practices.
And what the NCAA Committee on Infractions found, according to ESPN, is that Bennett “acted unethically in his recruitment of international prospects” and “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance.”
Further, an unnamed assistant coach has been charged with unethical conduct. The NCAA’s report states that he “knowingly committed violations during the recruitment of three prospects.” The assistant arranged for travel to the United States and lodging with a local family for at least one recruit and, to make matters far worse, Bennett was aware of the activity.
Those are punishment buzzwords that actually carry far heavier implications than they may indicate on the surface. There are several punishments that the program, and Bennett, must now face.
For starters, the coach who has brought in 11 Australian players during his tenure will no longer be allowed to recruit off campus and will also serve a five-game suspension next season.
As for the team itself, the Gaels will still be allowed to participate in the West Coast Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament but can’t play in preseason or in-season tournaments. Bennett will also have to get used to coaching fewer scholarship-caliber players. St. Mary’s will suffer a reduction in scholarships from 13 to 11 for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Further, there will be an elimination of all foreign tours until the start of the 2017-18 season — a tough move for a brand that, as alluded to earlier, carries a strong international presence.
Obviously, Bennett was not happy with the NCAA’s ruling.
“I am disappointed,” Bennett said in a statement. “I cooperated fully with the investigation and accepted responsibility where I came up short. The penalties are clearly excessive and although I’m still reviewing the report and trying to understand it, I know already that the report fails to include important mitigating information and tells only part of the story. I’ll continue to review the report and consider my options.”
Basketball is the school’s premier sport, and Bennett has brought it up from the depths. Obviously, those on the board understand that, having signed him through the 2021 season. At the same time they must look at the bigger picture. Every university is larger than one man.
“Saint Mary’s was founded on principles of integrity, service and Catholic values and we expect all in our community to act according to those values,” said Saint Mary’s President Brother Ronald Gallagher. “We are proud of our achievements in athletics and of the commitment of our staff and students to the College’s principles. We have taken — and will take — further steps to monitor our compliance and to ensure that our coaches, staff and students abide by all rules and regulations.”
The school is going to accept the ruling, but will also look into a potential appeal regarding the extent of the penalties. Either way, Gallagher and his staff are going to have to monitor far more closely, apparently.
Because even though the NCAA does not have the respect of the majority of the sports world to make rulings such as these, it has not stopped them. Should president Mark Emmert be forced to look at another case of improper behavior, Bennett will most likely be forced to pay with his job.