Syracuse University, which is investigating allegations of major violations of NCAA rules in its basketball program, yesterday suspended seven players -- including national player of the year contender Billy Owens -- for apparently minor infractions, and several hours later the NCAA restored their eligibility for today's nationally televised game at Notre Dame.
Declared ineligible in addition to Owens were senior center LeRon Ellis, junior forward Dave Johnson, sophomore guards Michael Edwards and Mike Hopkins, sophomore forward Dave Siock and senior walk-on Chandu Carey. Owens, Johnson, Ellis and Edwards are starters. Owens is averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds a game, Johnson 20 points and Ellis 11 points and 7.7 rebounds.
Yesterday's action was more procedural than punitive since NCAA schools are obligated to declare ineligible any athlete it knows is involved in an NCAA violation.
NCAA spokesman Jim Marchiony said Syracuse followed NCAA rules in making the suspensions and then appealing to the NCAA's eligibility staff for reinstatement, and "that action warranted immediate restoration of the players' eligibility."
"We're pleased the NCAA is satisfied with the university's handling of this matter and was able to restore the players' eligibility," said Robert Hill, the university's vice president for public relations.
The seven players stayed behind when the team, with only three scholarship players -- freshmen Adrian Autry and Scott McConkle and sophomore Conrad McRae -- left for South Bend, Ind. Once their eligibility was restored by the Eligibility Committee's five-member Division I subcommittee, the seven players took a commercial flight to South Bend last night, according to Hill.
Coach Jim Boeheim, who conducted a practice without his top players yesterday afternoon, said he was unaware that the suspensions and reinstatements are apparently routine NCAA transactions.
"I didn't know that. I was ready to go with three football players, three walk-ons, the two freshmen and McRae," Boeheim said. "It's been a crazy 24 hours. It's been going on for the last couple of days. . . .
"You have to learn to handle these things, you have to learn to face adversity and that's what we're trying to get the players to understand, that if you take the appropriate measures, hopefully it will all turn out."
In December, the Syracuse Post-Standard, following a seven-month investigation, quoted former Syracuse players as saying over the past seven years they received merchandise, cut-rate use of rental cars and cash from boosters, including NBA Hall-of-Famer Dave Bing and current New Jersey Nets center Derrick Coleman, the No. 1 player in the 1990 NBA draft.
The university began its own investigation and hired the services of Chicago sports lawyers Mike Slive and Michael Glazier, who have handled in-house investigations for other accused programs. The NCAA has yet to begin an investigation and may wait several months until Slive and Glazier complete theirs.
Details of yesterday's self-admitted infractions considered by the eligibility committee were sketchy, and Hill said only that the "infractions vary from player to player." He declined to discuss the nature or the number of them because the investigation is continuing.
A source familiar with the investigation said about 50 minor violations were uncovered.
The eligibility committee can require an athlete to make restitution for extra benefits he receives before his eligibility is restored. For instance, in the University of Maryland case, three players who sold ACC tournament tickets for as much as $1,000 each and had eligibility remaining were required to pay back the money they received and to sit out several games.
It was unclear last night whether any such restitution was required in the Syracuse matter considered yesterday.
Marchiony said that such eligibility matters are routine, and that the Syracuse case was unique only because it became public so soon.
Robert M. Sweazy, Texas Tech's faculty representative and chairman of the eligibility subcommittee that heard the matter, could not be reached for comment last night.
Hill said the infractions were uncovered earlier this week, that the university began to get information relevant to them on Thursday and was able to get definitive information yesterday. He said a report was faxed to the NCAA after noontime.
Hill said the infractions were uncovered by a combination of inhouse lawyers and Glazier, a former NCAA investigator. But a source said all the violations reported were uncovered by Glazier "in about three days."
Marchiony said that Syracuse followed NCAA rules in making the suspensions and then appealing to the NCAA's eligibility staff for reinstatement, and "that action warranted immediate restoration of the players' eligibility."
The eligibility staff is separate from the infractions committee, a five-member group that hears evidence on possible violations and renders decisions on sanctions.