Texas A&M arrived today to begin preparations for the Cotton Bowl under the cloud of allegations of NCAA violations, but Coach Jackie Sherrill said in a news conference that his program was not threatened.
The Aggies have been hit by allegations in recent weeks that thousands of dollars in payments were made to players by alumni and coaches. But Sherrill said today the school's own investigation has not found any wrongdoing that would lead to NCAA sanctions.
"We are not threatened," Sherrill said. "To the contrary, it has allowed us to spend a lot of time and go into areas you normally don't go into. We're auditing the program from top to bottom. We've talked to over 200 people inside and out of the program and will talk to over 300 by January . . . We've done this on our own. We'll look at our procedures and policies and see which have worked, and change what needs to be changed."
An NCAA investigation may be forthcoming, however, and Sherrill said it could take as long as two years for the governing body of college athletics to conduct its inquiry. But he said he didn't think it would have a long-term effect on the program.
"It didn't stop players from going to SMU," he said. "It didn't stop players from going to Florida or Auburn."
The violations Texas A&M is accused of, under the tenures of Sherrill and predecessor Tom Wilson, include signing incentives and bonuses for players, weekly allowances, performance payments, car deals and other favors from coaches and boosters. Many of the allegations were reported by the Dallas Times Herald, which talked to more than 40 recent players over a two-month investigation.
Sherrill has had an adversarial relationship with the media in recent weeks. Both the Times Herald and WFAA, a local TV station, have been denied interviews with players, and a television crew was escorted out of the locker room after the Aggies' victory over Texas in the final game of the regular season. WFAA confronted quarterback Kevin Murray on campus earlier this season with documents linking his leased car, an Audi 4000-S, to a Cincinnati professional sports agent.
"It stopped some problems that were figuring to arise," Sherrill said of the locker room incident. "I'm not hiding anything; our books are always open. (But) I have rights and my players have rights and you're not going to harass them."
Sherrill also suggested that the media covering the Southwest Conference form a committee and work with the conference in future investigations. The committee, he said, would not have any sanctioning power, but could reprimand coaches and programs, as well as regulate journalistic conduct.
"I think it's time in this conference for the media to make the decision of whether it's going to be for the conference," he said. "Be part of the solution rather than the problem."