The National Collegiate Athletic Association has denied the University at Buffalo's appeal of NCAA penalties that reduced the number of official paid visits in men's basketball over the next two seasons, ending a saga that began in the fall of 1999.
Former Bulls coach Tim Cohane also is free to coach again, the NCAA ruled.
UB appealed the penalty that requires a limit of eight official paid visits in men's basketball during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years. Buffalo petitioned to have the NCAA restore its official paid visits to 10. The maximum official visits allowed are 12. The NCAA's Infractions Appeals Committee upheld the penalty as appropriate to the circumstances.
The NCAA ruled that for four years, from 1995-96 to 1999-2000, Cohane and other members of the basketball staff observed informal scrimmages among student-athletes before the formal start of practice. In addition, tryouts were conducted for at least four prospective student-athletes who were on campus for official or unofficial visits and impermissible scouting activities were allowed.
In March, UB was placed on two years of probation and an NCAA penalty was imposed on Cohane for violations of several bylaws.
The penalties on Cohane, which were to run through December 2002, barred NCAA schools from hiring him unless they could demonstrate "just cause" for the NCAA to allow it.
Cohane, who lives in Rhode Island, later appealed the findings, arguing that the penalty was excessive and inappropriate. The NCAA agreed and terminated the penalty, effective last Friday.
Cohane resigned as coach in December 1999 and was replaced by Reggie Witherspoon, who is now entering his second full season as coach.
"The above language by the NCAA Appeals Committee shows that the alleged NCAA violations reported in 1999 was much ado about nothing," Cohane said Wednesday via e-mail. "It is sad that because these events were so blown out of proportion that student-athlete careers were negatively affected. I am pleased the appeals committee ended this penalty."
Cohane said there have been more than 300 cases of these types of NCAA violations, "which come down to someone allegedly watching a future opponent play and coaches observing players in the offseason, and not once have the violations been ruled major."
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," said Bob Arkeilpane, UB's director of athletics. "At the same time, what it represents here is closure in this case. I think getting this thing behind us is the best thing that can happen."
The ruling will affect the way the program recruits, Witherspoon said.
"It is a restriction and it's not one to sneeze at," he said. "It's something that we can do without."
The Bulls have four scholarships to give this season and the margin of error is smaller because of the reduced number of visits. Witherspoon said the Bulls will have to recruit more players who are willing to visit the campus unofficially.
"We have to screen them a little bit before they come to campus," he said. "What we've done so far is get more unofficial visits on campus, but it's tough and it's a lot of stress. It's always hanging over your head how many visits you have left.
"When we get to the point where we'll have 12, we'll be so elated we won't know what to do. A kid is allowed five visits, so if he agrees to come to your campus you have a 20 percent chance right there. With us we have that and the restrictions to deal with."
The controversy began when UB self-reported the violations to the Mid-American Conference in October 1999, and a Buffalo News investigation subsequently revealed the program held workouts for prospective student-athletes. Three days before the 1999-00 season opener, Cohane dismissed the controversy surrounding his program as "a bunch of nonsense."
But Cohane later resigned, just days before the Bulls hosted nationally ranked North Carolina. The News reported that a possible boycott by the players prior to the North Carolina game may have led to Cohane's resignation.
The NCAA's decision brought an end to the situation.
"We have a great coaching staff in Reggie and the assistants he put in place," Arkeilpane said. "They do a terrific job recruiting, and I think if anybody is going to be able to overcome the fact that we're going to be down a few official visits, I think it's that staff."