The University of the District of Columbia canceled its men's and women's basketball seasons because it would not have enough eligible players in either program to field a team. The announcement was made yesterday afternoon at an on-campus news conference attended by players from both teams as well as school and athletic department officials.
The violations in men's and women's basketball center around recruitment, academic eligibility and financial aid. The university did not release the names of the players involved citing privacy concerns.
"It was our hope that we would be able to start the season, but as we were able to determine as recently as yesterday [Wednesday], it would be very difficult for us to field a team that would represent the standards that we would hold for the university," said William L. Pollard, UDC president. "So with that in mind, we made the decision to shut down the season. . . . There was no alternative."
School officials began investigating the men's basketball program in January 2003 after receiving a tip about an ineligible player. The investigation expanded to include all sports and athletes at the school since 2000, according to Robert L Clayton, a lawyer with Epstein, Becker and Green, P.C., who was hired by UDC to lead the probe. The university has notified the NCAA of its investigation.
"The NCAA has not sent us at this point a notice of allegations," Clayton said. "They are awaiting the results of our self-investigation."
Clayton also indicated that the men's and women's tennis teams could face a fate similar to that of men's and women's basketball. A decision on those sports is expected by the end of next week.
Pollard has formed a task force headed by interim athletic director Kelly J. Higgins and including former Georgetown athletic director Joe Lang to determine the future of UDC athletics.
Last year, the NCAA penalized UDC for using ineligible players on the men's soccer team. The university was forced to forfeit 14 of its 20 matches, including the team's appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament. In March, four men's basketball players were ruled ineligible for the Division II tournament first-round game.
Asked repeatedly if this decision meant the termination of the two programs at UDC, Pollard said only, "My hope is to provide for these students that you see here today the very best opportunities for an education that we can provide. . . . The question is how we provide that opportunity, and that's what the task force will do for us."
Men's basketball coach Mike McLeese, who served as athletic director until September, was not at the news conference. McLeese, who has been placed on administrative leave with pay, did not return calls seeking comment. Women's basketball coach Lester Butler, who attended the news conference, said the problems with his players were related solely to financial aid.
The decision came as a surprise to many. The men's team was scheduled to host the UDC Tip-Off Classic beginning tonight. Two teams, North Carolina Central and Belmont Abbey, were already in town for the tournament. Bryant was about to board a plane to fly to Washington when it learned of the decision. The women's team was set to leave by bus yesterday for West Virginia to play Davis & Elkins in a season opener.
"It's not fair to us," said Tyane Washington, a junior guard from Brandywine. "They said they were worried about the students, but they never contacted us. We were leaving today at 2 p.m. to go to West Virginia, and you wait to tell us today?"
School officials said the reason they waited until the last moment to cancel the season was because they wanted to conduct a thorough investigation. Higgins said the school would honor each player's scholarship. If the players want to transfer to another school, he would assist them in making the arrangements.
Said junior forward Marcus Johnson (Bishop McNamara): "It's kind of like your worst nightmare coming true. . . . I don't think it really hit everybody yet. Tomorrow it will soak in. Tomorrow and this weekend when you're looking at everybody else playing and all the other box scores and you realize that we won't have one."