Audit of Binghamton athletics shows lack of academic compliance, weak oversight of program

By John Kekis, AP
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Report: Weak oversight of Binghamton athletics

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A four-month investigation into the Binghamton University athletic department found school officials failed to act when problems arose, including dubious enrollments and lax enforcement of academic standards for athletes.

A 102-page report recommends hiring an “athletic oversight officer” for the entire State University of New York system, reporting to the chancellor and Board of Trustees on admissions, the academic progress and behavior of student-athletes, and rules compliance.

“Institutional control is critically important,” SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher said Thursday during a conference call. “Any student we recruit comes with respect for the academic process. That’s the standard we’re striving for. The integrity of the academic enterprise is our highest priority.”

The report concluded that academic integrity was sacrificed after the school moved in 2001 from Division III to the world of big-time college athletics.

SUNY began its investigation in October after a series of events decimated the men’s basketball team: six players were kicked off the team after one was arrested on cocaine charges; coach Kevin Broadus was suspended with pay from his $217,000 job after the university self-reported recruiting violations; a female employee claimed she was sexually harassed and filed a lawsuit against two athletics officials and two boosters; and athletics director Joel Thirer resigned.

In addition, there were allegations that an athletics employee had pressured an adjunct lecturer into giving preferential treatment to an athlete.

“This report speaks for itself,” Zimpher said. “It’s important that we get this right and do so promptly.”

Zimpher said she shared the report with the SUNY Board of Trustees, the NCAA and the America East Conference in which the university competes in basketball. She declined to criticize outgoing university president Lois B. DeFleur, who was aware of the academic and social improprieties and initially did nothing about them.

Zimpher also declined comment on the future of Broadus. A long-time assistant, Broadus was hired in 2007 from the Georgetown staff and signed a contract extension last June through the 2013-2014 season.

“There appear to be multiple areas where greater oversight is absolutely required,” Zimpher said. “I can’t turn the hands of time back. I’m trying not to second-guess the past. I can set a standard how we’re going to behave going forward.”

The 73-year-old DeFleur, school president for the past 19 years, declined to comment on the report. She announced last month that she would step down at the end of July for personal reasons, citing an impending marriage and the health of her mother.

Among the investigation’s findings: Broadus successfully circumvented the university’s admissions standards to get a player enrolled and also lobbied for a player’s grade to be changed; an assistant basketball coach and a player openly discussed cash payments and academic cheating; the university knowingly accepted too many student-athletes who needed more academic help than could be provided.

Broadus’ lawyer, Don Jackson, said via e-mail that the investigation showed Broadus neither violated any major NCAA bylaws nor acted in a manner to discredit the university. He said Broadus is prepared to return to his position.

The influx of questionable student-athletes did have a fleeting benefit. The team won the America East Conference title a year ago, giving the university its first NCAA tournament berth, the measuring stick for major college basketball.

Six months later, the team was crippled after star guard Emanuel “Tiki” Mayben was arrested, and later pleaded not guilty to possessing and selling cocaine in his hometown of Troy, N.Y. Rensselaer County District Attorney Richard J. McNally, Jr. said Thursday the case against Mayben is still pending.

Two days later, the school released five more players — including leading scorer D.J. Rivera and Malik Alvin — with a vague reference to “commitment issues.”

Alvin was arrested in November 2008 for attempting to steal condoms from a Wal-Mart, and while fleeing knocked over an elderly woman, giving her a concussion. A larceny charge was dismissed and Alvin pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, police said. Alvin missed only three games.

Thirer told investigators Mayben’s arrest was the “tipping point and the rules changed.”

Still, throughout the controversy school officials tried to place a positive spin on the situation, stressing the academic success of its athletes, particularly those outside the men’s basketball program, and vowed the athletics program had a bright future.

The outside review led by Judith Kaye, the state’s former chief judge, cost more than $900,000 that will be covered with funds from the university’s foundation and SUNY’s Research Foundation. No tuition or taxpayer dollars will be used.

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