The illegal transcript scandal which has rocked athletic programs at several western universities in recent months is still extremely widespread and will almost certainly bring about further criminal indictments at schools east of the Mississippi in the next few months, a top FBI official said today.
Francis M. Mullen Jr., assistant director of the FBI's Division of Criminal Investigation, told members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches that the transcript scandal "is very serious, is widespread and impacts on all of you."
Mullen said today that a total of 18 schools, including NCAA Division I schools and the junior colleges where the phony extension or correspondence courses were offered, have been investigated by the FBI.
At the same time, NCAA Director of Enforcement David Berst said 30 to 35 NCAA Division I schools -- about 15 percent of the membership -- are currently under NCAA investigation for alleged violations, including both transcript fixing and recruiting. Neither Mullen nor Berst would identify the schools under investigation.
"We (the FBI) are of the opinion that the FBI does not belong in the classroom," Mullen told the coaches. "We think we have made our point the last few months by exposing the problem. The problem is yours and it is very widespread."
The transcript scandal was first uncovered in November when an Albuquerque police wiretap was put on New Mexico Assistant Coach Manny Goldstein's phone as part of a gambling investigation. Police said they picked up a conversation between Goldstein and New Mexico Coach Norm Ellenberger in which the two discussed falsifying a player's transcript.
Both coaches were fired soon after the investigation became public and Ellenberger is under federal indictment for mail fraud in connection with the case.
Since the New Mexico disclosures, a number of other western and south-western schools have been investigated for grade fixing and for using ineligible players in football and basketball. Several top athletes have been declared ineligible and several schools have forfeited victories in both sports.
Mullen was invited to address the coaches, at the urging of St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca, partly because of the transcript scandal. Also, with the tremendous interest in college basketball, many coaches are concerned that the time may be ripe for another point-shaving scandal.
"We do not have any investigations involving point shaving going on at the moment," Mullen said. He added that he believed the coaches invited him because they are concerned the problem could come up in the near future.
Earlier this season, for example, Maryland coach Lefty Driesell was so shaken by an episode of the TV show, "The White Shadow," showing how an athlete can be drawn into gambling that he called the FBI and asked them to send a representative to speak to his team. Carnesecca has had a law enforcement officer speak to his team for years.
Mullen advised that all the coaches follow suit. He also advised them to check on any "sports buff," who begins hanging around with the team.
"The local police should know if he is involved with gambling activities," Mullen said. He also said that coaches should be aware of the point spread on games and, if a coach found his team consistently losing to the spread, should become suspicious.
Mullen's talk was sparsely attended by coaches, meeting here for their annual convention. In fact, when Mullen was introduced, a number of coaches left the room.
"I'm causing a mass exodus," Mullen said after being introduced. Later he commented that, "I don't think a lot of these guys want to hear what I have to tell them."
Mullen said that the FBI does not plan to begin any new transcript-fixing investigations. But he said that if the NCAA reaches a point in the investigation where its lack of subpoena power and manpower becomes a problem, the FBI will contact local law enforcement agencies for the NCAA and ask them to become involved.
The NCAA has only eight investigators on its staff and Mullen noted that it, "could probably use more investigators at this point."
After Mullen's talk, the coaches were shown a film called "The Competitive Edge," which is geared to inform athletes about what is legal in recruiting and the consequences of breaking the rules. The film will be shown to the participants in this week's Capital Classic for high school all-star players.