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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU receives NCAA letter of official inquiry

Today New Mexico State University received the National Collegiate Athletic Association's letter of official inquiry regarding possible violations of NCAA regulations in 1996.

The violations concern recruitment of two student-athletes, fraudulent completion of correspondence course work, and extra benefits in the men's basketball program in 1996.

The letter of official inquiry follows NMSU's issuance last February of a 142-page self-report to the NCAA, detailing possible infractions discovered by the university during a lawsuit involving former men's basketball coach Neil McCarthy and NMSU.

"The NCAA letter of official inquiry adopts several of the university's own findings from its investigation," said NMSU President G. Jay Gogue. "Although these violations occurred several years ago, we take them no less seriously. We will continue to cooperate in every way with the NCAA. In addition, I am self-imposing multiple sanctions in our men's basketball program immediately."

The self-imposed sanctions include two years of probation for the men's basketball program; no post-season play in 2001; and reduction in scholarships. In 2001-2002, scholarships will be reduced by one, from 13 to 12; in 2002-2003, reduced by two, from 13 to 11; and in 2003-2004, reduced by one, from 13 to 12. In addition, limits will be imposed on the following recruitment activities: no junior college prospects will be signed for admission in 2002-2003; reduction in official visits from 12 to eight for two years, starting in 2001-2002; reduction of in- person contacts from five to four for two years, starting in 2001-2002; and a 25 percent reduction in the number of evaluations from the maximum number allowed for two years, starting in 2001-2002.

The NCAA letter, which requires NMSU to make an official response by Feb. 23, 2001, adopts four violations reported Feb. 20, 2000, by NMSU, which relate to recruitment of prospective student-athletes and possible arrangement of fraudulent correspondence-course credits, providing extra benefits to student-athletes, and rules regarding tryouts.

The NCAA letter also sets forth three violations alleged by the enforcement staff, which relate to unethical conduct by three former coaches.

At some point, after NMSU has responded to the NCAA letter, university officials will appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Brian Faison, who became NMSU director of intercollegiate athletics in July 1999, said the university will respond fully to the NCAA letter of official inquiry.

"We want to move as quickly as possible to put these incidents behind us, which are left over from an earlier era," he said.

Basketball Head Coach Lou Henson, who replaced McCarthy in October 1997, said he fully supports President Gogue and his decision to impose sanctions immediately.

"Even though none of our current team members or coaching staff was involved in this matter, we must show how seriously we regard any allegations, especially academic fraud. Our players understand the value I place on academics and that I will not tolerate violations," Henson said.

President Gogue added: "I urge everyone to continue to support Coach Henson and the current men's basketball program. These young people and their coaches had nothing to do with the violations that occurred in 1996. This has to be extremely disappointing for our players and fans who care about the program. This is a chance for all of us to show the team that their efforts are appreciated."

According to the NMSU self-report issued last February, the allegations stem from the recruitment of two junior college basketball prospective student-athletes in spring 1996. They signed National Letters of Intent in April 1996 to attend NMSU, where they enrolled for the fall 1996 semester. Their junior- college coach was Fletcher Cockrell, who was seeking employment at NMSU at the same time he was coaching the student-athletes, according to the self-report. McCarthy hired Cockrell as an assistant men's basketball coach at NMSU in June 1996, two months after the two student-athletes committed to NMSU.

The information discovered during the university's investigation suggests that Cockrell secured his employment at NMSU by thwarting the recruiting efforts of other interested institutions while at the same time inducing the student-athletes to commit to NMSU. Further, the self-report stated, Cockrell arranged for the students to receive fraudulent correspondence- course credit from the University of Central Arkansas during the spring of 1996, enabling the young men to graduate from the junior college and meet NCAA transfer-eligibility requirements for two-year transfer students.

Based on their college transcripts and assurances of the validity of the corresondence courses, NMSU certified the student-athletes' eligibility, awarded them financial aid, and allowed them to play when, in fact, they were not eligible. Thus, the NMSU self-report stated, an inadvertent violation of NCAA rules occurred.

Cockrell was terminated by former Athletics Director Jim Paul effective Oct. 31, 1997. On Dec. 3, 1997, Cockrell filed suit against NMSU. Cockrell's litigation is still pending.

Nena Singleton
Dec. 6, 2000