Athletic Director Dick Dull said yesterday the University of Maryland is conducting a review of its women's basketball program in light of what he called "very, very severe and serious" allegations of drug use and shoplifting by players.
Most of the allegations, which Coach Chris Weller characterized as "a vicious personal attack by a couple of people unhappy with decisions I made early in the year," were contained in two letters written by Janet Welsh, vice president of the Rebounders, a booster club. Welsh sent letters to Dull, Chancellor John Slaughter and the NCAA, sources said.
Welsh did not choose to elaborate on her letters, and Dull declined to discuss specific allegations until his review is complete.
"I regard the allegations as very, very severe and serious," Dull said. "I don't regard them yet as true."
Welsh's letter to Dull, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, alleges a number of problems in the program. These include some that have been investigated and closed by the university -- unauthorized use of the telephone credit card number issued to the women's team (for which restitution has been made, according to university officials) and several members of the team smoking marijuana in front of a recruit (for which three members of the team were sent to drug counseling). Other allegations include shoplifting and NCAA rules violations involving the tutoring of a non-team member.
After receiving the letter, The Post interviewed approximately two dozen people closely connected with the Maryland women's basketball program. All supported Weller firmly and felt the program was generally solid. But there were recurrent concerns about one or two players, as team members and those close to them have tried to sort out fact from the allegations circulating.
One of the team's best players, who did not wish to be identified, said talk has been widespread about use of marijuana by a small circle of players, about shoplifting on and off campus -- with a player even bragging about escaping stores undetected -- and about homosexual relationships.
Weller said she went so far as to call a team meeting to deal with unsubstantiated rumors of sexual relations.
"No one knows what's going on," the player said. Did it affect the team? "The rumors did," she said.
A player's relative said, "She'd come home and say, 'Guess who's sleeping with who now?' I told her to forget about it."
Another current player, however, said, "The accusations, as far as I'm concerned, are ridiculous. I don't know why they want to hurt the team. There is nothing at Maryland that no other program doesn't have."
The university is on spring break at this time and not all players could be reached for comment.
In the fall of 1984, three players were sent by Weller to drug counseling at the campus health center after a recruit reported they smoked marijuana in her presence. Weller called a team meeting and the three players admitted smoking marijuana.
"There were a lot of vicious things being stated," said Weller, who called further meetings. "[I said] At the University of Maryland, we in no way, shape or form endorse any of the following: drugs or any relationships."
Weller said the problems have been solved, that recent allegations were largely a campaign to hurt her program by a disgruntled former player and supporters of that player.
"There's been a lot flying around ever since these people were involved in our program," Weller said, referring to Welsh and the former player, Sydney Beasley, who transferred to James Madison this semester and did not wish to be quoted. Weller would not identify the player, but she is named in Welsh's letter; Welsh was Beasley's guidance counselor at Potomac High School and joined the Rebounders after Beasley committed to Maryland.
Weller has run one of the top women's basketball programs in the country since coming to Maryland for the 1975-76 season. From 1977-78 to 1981-82, Weller took teams to the national championship game once, to the final four twice and to the final eight five times in a row.
Along the way, she has established a reputation as a disciplinarian and as a coach who tolerates no nonsense. "I swear to you, I never have allowed anything to slide," Weller said yesterday by phone from Lexington, Ky., where she is attending the women's Final Four. "A lot of the time people think I bite off my nose to spite my face. . . . I've dealt with issues to the point people say I've been ridiculous."
Weller said she did not believe there was an ongoing drug or shoplifting problem on her team. But she added, "I'd be the last to know, wouldn't I? If I did, I'd deal with it."
Weller was among the first to hear about the drug use in the presence of the recruit in 1984. Sources said the recruit told Weller that there was marijuana smoking by the three, and that after the team meeting at which it was discussed and the three admitted their participation, the three underwent the campus program.
Weller said that is the end of any drug involvement by her players as far as she knows. But a player said, "You'd hear rumors, if somebody was on it marijuana , wasn't on it, then you wouldn't trust that person."
"I heard so much talk about it, I wanted to take her out of the program," a source close to a player said.
Other sources expressed concern about reports of shoplifting by two players, one no longer on the team. Weller said she received an anonymous letter about shoplifting last fall and at that point, "I went to Dick Dull and said, 'What do we do? We've never had anything like this before.' "
Weller said she met with the players the letter alleged were involved. "When I asked, they denied it," Weller said. "I said, 'Hey, you're dealing with the law here. You're dealing with the possibility of a criminal record.' Then, in a team meeting I warned them all about shoplifting."
A manager at the campus store said they had no reports of shoplifting by women basketball players.
Another source said a player bragged about a successful shoplifting foray at a discount store in Greenbelt. The player said she had stolen a pair of shoes that did not fit and wanted to sell them, according to the source.
Last year, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA, acting on information turned over by Maryland, imposed a one-year off-campus recruiting sanction against Weller for allowing Deanna Tate to travel with the team to three road games when Tate was a student at University College in 1984-85. University College is run by Maryland, on its College Park campus, as both an adult education center and a proving ground for students seeking admission. After Tate was admitted to Maryland in January 1985, NCAA rules permitted her to accompany the team on the rest of its trips.
"Chris felt it was important for her Tate to feel she was a part of the team," Dull said. "Her heart was in the right place. Her thinking was faulty."
Weller said she thought she was acting within NCAA rules when she allowed Tate to travel with the team.
In addition to the announced sanctions, Weller was denied a regularly scheduled $2,000 pay raise, and she was asked to make restitution of Tate's air fare to California for a tournament in which Maryland played.
According to correspondence between Maryland and the NCAA and Maryland and the Atlantic Coast Conference, Weller was told by Jack Faber, a former faculty athletic representative, and Jim Dietsch, an athletic department staff member, on Dec. 21 that she could not take Tate to California.
In a memorandum submitted by Weller, she said, "At that time I was told Deanna could not go on the trip because she was not a University of Maryland student. I was told it was because managers had to be students. Dick Dull was not in town. I checked the NCAA manual to see if there were any restrictions for managers. I could not find any. I did not have the heart to tell Deanna she couldn't go on the USC trip. I reasoned that I had already made the mistake of taking her to Philadelphia."
Welsh's letter alleges and independent sources confirmed that Tate, while at University College, received tutoring services in violation of NCAA rules.
"She was never given the tutorial services at Maryland," Weller said yesterday. Dull, however, said Maryland had paid for a tutor for Tate, and that he thought it within NCAA rules. Bob Minnix of the NCAA enforcement department said the athletic department may not pay for tutoring of an athlete who does not meet NCAA requirements for a scholarship.
Sources said Tate also attended practice and shot free throws in the presence of coaches. Weller said Tate attended practice every day but shot "off at the other end, by herself. . . . I looked at her like Vinny Mayolo , who is Lefty's Driesell, men's coach manager."
Tate could not be reached for comment.
The NCAA said a person who does not qualify academically for an athletic scholarship cannot receive any aid while performing the duties of a manager.
In addition to the sanction against Weller, which is up in July, the NCAA initially ruled Tate ineligible for life to play at Maryland, it was learned yesterday. However, Maryland appealed and her eligibility was reinstated; Tate, a freshman point guard, played this past season when Maryland went 17-13 and won the ACC tournament with a series of upset victories.
"In our year when we went 9-18 1984-85 , we obviously had a few problems," Weller said, adding, "I think we're moving in the right direction, I think we've turned the corner.
"I'm never totally confident with our program. I always worry about them [players]. I want them to be perfect, but I know that can't be." Washington Post staff writer Sandra Bailey also contributed to this report.