Recapping Wright Thompson's recent coverage of the LSU Tigers in the T-P. He's surely endeavoring to win a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in sports journalism, and is leaving no stone unturned in a mission to report his LSU findings. The latest story came out today 4/11 (it's the last one I pasted). Note that the NCAA and SEC are completely satisfied with the way LSU investigated, and handled, the recruiting situation. 03/31/02 By Wright Thompson Staff writer/The Times-Picayune A VERY LONELY ENTERPRISE Whistle-blowers that reveal wrongdoing in athletic departments find the lose friends, credibility, and often their jobs BATON ROUGE -- It doesn't seem like much, but it could change her life. It's just a few lines in a lawsuit, a claim she says is not even aimed at an athletic department, but rather at what Caroline Owen sees as injustice. She wants the chance to pursue her dream of a master's degree, a dream she claims LSU unfairly took from her. The suit, filed two weeks ago by the LSU graduate student, accuses the university's kinesiology department of, among other things, covering up plagiarism by student-athletes. Owen is one of two women who have recently come forward with accusations of academic dishonesty involving the LSU athletic department. Both women have accused LSU of retaliation after they came forward. Owen said her concerns were ignored and her pay was cut in half. The attorney representing the other accuser, who has chosen to remain anonymous, said LSU athletic director Skip Bertman made inaccurate and disparaging comments about her client. Those statements, attorney Jill Craft said, amount to "targeting." "The problem with making irresponsible comments like that, targeted at one person, is the mere fact that you lay that information out there, and you lay it out there for public consumption," Craft said at the time. "They were designed to do nothing more than undermine her credibility. . . . We are extremely concerned that it was not a mistake." LSU spokesman Gene Sands said there has been no retaliation. LSU chancellor Mark Emmert, who said a teacher's right to raise concerns about academic issues is at the heart of a great university, has promised that retaliation won't be tolerated. Despite Emmert's declaration, the treatment endured by past whistle-blowers at other universities suggests his vow is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce. Even the past few weeks at LSU suggest otherwise. "She absolutely wants nothing more than to do the right thing," said Aidan Reynolds, Owen's attorney, who said his client has received harassing phone calls since the suit was filed. "We're very disappointed in LSU's response. She is very concerned based on things that have occurred since this came to light." Such harassment, whether it comes from the university, its faculty, students or fans, fits neatly into the pattern others have experienced. "A common experience we see is that the whistle-blower is often attacked themselves," said Mark Polston, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specialized in federal whistle-blowing cases. "Their actions are brought into question. Their motives are brought into question. A common tactic is to make the case against the whistle-blower, rather than deal with the problem the whistle-blower is bringing forward." Three other women -- Linda Bensel-Meyers, Jan Gangelhoff and Jan Kemp -- each spoke out against academic corruption in college athletics. They did it at different times for different reasons at three different universities. They've all handled the inevitable backlash differently -- from crusading to hiding to humor. They've all also discovered something in the backlash: shining a light into sacred places such as big-time football and basketball programs can change your life (this complete story can be read online at http://www.nola.com/lsu/t-p/football/index.ssf?/lsustory/scandal31.html) 04/04/02 By Wright Thompson Staff writer/The Times-Picayune Grades indicate disparity in LSU sports Football, basketball teams trail in GPA BATON ROUGE -- Nearly a third of the football and men's basketball players at LSU had grade-point averages lower than 2.0 last semester, according to documents from the Academic Center for Student-Athletes. The documents, which were obtained by The Times-Picayune on Monday, said that 46 of the 149 football players and five of the 16 men's basketball players had GPAs lower than 2.0 in the fall of 2001. Falling below a cumulative 2.0 GPA, a C average, could result in academic probation, depending on the number of classes in which the student has been enrolled. Of the football team's 149 student-athletes, only 85 can be on scholarship. No breakdown on the grade-point averages of scholarship players compared to walk-ons was available. Generally, however, walk-ons boost the team's overall GPA, according to Bill Curry, an ESPN analyst and former head football coach at Alabama and Kentucky. "It's one benefit, because walk-ons tend to be somewhat better students, although that's certainly not always the case," Curry said. He also said that having a substantial number of athletes with poor grades is a problem. "If a lot of players are in trouble or on probation, then there is something you are not doing right," Curry said, adding that he was speaking generally and not about LSU's situation in particular. "You must address it, and you must correct it." LSU has perennially been at or near the bottom of the SEC in graduation rates. The rates for both the football and men's basketball teams, for instance, were second to last, according to NCAA numbers for 2000. LSU football coach Nick Saban has said he wants to change that. He even receives bonuses based on the academic achievement of his players. LSU geology professor Laurie Anderson, who also is an academic adviser, said jobs and extracurricular activities are common culprits for poor grades. "As an undergraduate adviser," she said, "you would want to know more about their lives than just what classes they are taking, to see what pressures are on them." Last summer the football team was awarded an American Football Coaches Association Academic Achievement Award honorable mention for having a graduation rate of more than 70 percent for the 1995-96 recruiting class. The football and men's basketball teams had the highest percentage of LSU athletes with GPAs lower than 2.0. Men's tennis was next with 25 percent. The men's golf, gymnastics, women's golf, volleyball, women's tennis and softball teams had no athletes with GPAs lower than 2.0. The LSU documents also charted how many athletes in each sport carried a GPA higher than 3.0 in the fall of 2001. Football and men's basketball were near the bottom of that list. Women's basketball brought up the rear with just 17 percent of its players at a 3.0 or better. Men's basketball had 18 percent, and football had 28 percent. Gymnastics led the list with 93 percent of its athletes at 3.0 or better. Baseball and golf were the top men's sports at 54 percent. The football team slightly improved its average GPA from the fall of 2000. The most dramatic improvement was from the soccer team, which raised its average GPA from 2.56 in the fall of 2000 to a 3.242 in the fall of 2001. The documents were part of LSU's investigation into alleged academic misconduct by student-athletes and the Academic Center for Student-Athletes. 04/09/02 By Wright Thompson Staff writer/The Times-Picayune Ex-LSU tutor says she was paid to help signee BATON ROUGE -- A former LSU tutor said she was paid to tutor football player Nate Livings at the university's Academic Center for Student-Athletes before he was enrolled, an apparent violation of NCAA rules. Shannon O'Bryan, who said she did the tutoring last semester, said she was paid by LSU and not by Livings. "It was while I was on the clock (at the Academic Center)," said O'Bryan, who moved to Kansas in December. NCAA spokesperson Laronica Conway, while not commenting on the LSU case, said providing prospective student-athletes with athletic department tutors is a violation of NCAA rules. Among the documents released by LSU relating to its investigation of the Academic Center for Student-Athletes were several pages detailing a similar situation at the University of Arkansas during the summer and fall of 1995. According to documents obtained by The Times-Picayune last week, Arkansas violated NCAA rules when three prospective student-athletes received tutoring at no cost to them. The issue, which was one of a number of NCAA violations, was resolved when the athletes reimbursed the university for the tutoring sessions. An LSU athletic department source said the tutoring of Livings was for fewer than 10 hours and valued at about $40. Most student tutors in the Academic Center are paid between $6 and $8 per hour, according to documents. Livings, who the LSU Registrar's office said first enrolled at the university this spring as a part-time student, had been taking classes he needed in order to be declared eligible. He signed letters-of-intent three times to play at LSU before becoming eligible this semester. In the spring, summer and fall of 2001, Livings enrolled in six classes at the LSU high school independent study department: world geography, both semesters of 10th-grade English, civics, American history first semester and free enterprise. Livings, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman from Lake Charles, was academically ineligible in 2000 and 2001. After Livings failed to make it before the 2001 season, LSU compliance director Bo Bahnsen said Livings could sign a scholarship again in the winter if he qualified, which he did. According to sources, the LSU athletic department has been investigating the Livings situation, which is one facet of a larger investigation that began in January when Academic Center student workers came to director Roger Grooters with concerns about possible NCAA violations and academic misconduct. The investigation became public after an attorney representing a kinesiology department instructor came forward with allegations of plagiarism by student-athletes. Similar allegations also were made later in a lawsuit by former LSU graduate student Caroline Owen. LSU also is investigating the system designed to help learning disabled students, independent study courses and whether tutors wrote papers for student-athletes. O'Bryan said she never wrote a paper for an athlete. Livings couldn't be reached for comment, and LSU officials said they couldn't comment because of the ongoing investigation 04/11/02 By Wright Thompson Staff writer/The Times-Picayune LSU coaches punished for minor infractions Saban, assistants have evaluation period reduced BATON ROUGE -- LSU football coach Nick Saban and two assistants were disciplined by the university for committing three minor NCAA recruiting violations, according to documents obtained by The Times-Picayune. LSU found that either Saban or the assistant coaches, whose names the university would not release, may have improperly contacted two potential recruits, and it also found a former assistant violated a rule regarding telephone contact with recruits. As a result, the university reduced the number of days the three coaches can go on the road during the spring evaluation period from 24 to 18 and ordered the football staff to cease recruiting two players. The university reported the three NCAA "secondary" violations itself to the Southeastern Conference chief in October 2001. In March, the NCAA said the disciplinary action taken by the university was sufficient. The SEC said it also was satisfied with LSU's response. During the spring evaluation period, college football coaches have a six-week window to be on the road to evaluate potential recruits. In that time, coaches can take four consecutive weeks on the road and may evaluate players for as many as six days each week, with Sundays a no-contact day. The period accounts for 24 of the 30 evaluation days coaches are allowed each year. The other six come in the fall. The violations are considered minor because they involve talking to or being in the presence of potential recruits inappropriately during the 2001 spring evaluation period: -- LSU found that while Saban was recruiting a prospective student-athlete, whose name was removed from the documents, he visited the recruit's school. The student was supposed to be in a weightlifting class, but the class was canceled, so the student was present while Saban and his high school coach talked. As the letter from LSU attorney Mike Pharis to SEC commissioner Roy Kramer dated October 22, 2001, says, "The conversation did not directly include (the recruit). However, his presence during the conversation violated the intent of the no-contact rule." -- LSU also concluded that Saban and an assistant may have had improper contact with another potential recruit. In that instance, the coaches, according to LSU, should have exercised more "discretion." -- The third violation didn't involve Saban directly. It centered on a former LSU assistant who exceeded the permissible number of phone calls per week to a recruit or had telephone contact during a week on which calls to recruits were not allowed. LSU examined the coach's phone records and found five instances in which impermissible phone calls were made. The matter came up in June 2001, when someone reported LSU for alleged violations of the "no-contact" rules during last year's spring evaluation period. The SEC sent investigator William Sievers to look into the matter, with LSU's support. During the evaluation period, coaches can go on the road to talk to the families and coaches of prospective recruits. Although they cannot talk to the players, they can watch them practice and work out. There also is a "no-bump" rule, meaning coaches cannot "accidentally" run into recruits. Saban, who is considered a hard-working recruiter, is one of the few head coaches in the SEC who goes out during the period. "The reason I go out in the spring recruiting is we evaluate players. I love to watch spring practice, and it promotes high school football," Saban said. "It promotes the high school coaches and the programs in this state and everywhere we recruit. That's why I go out and spring recruit." One incident involved Evangel High in Shreveport, where Saban supposedly broke the no-contact rule. Sievers' initial investigation uncovered no violations. Kramer then received additional allegations about LSU, and Sievers continued investigating, ultimately the three secondary violations. Wright Thompson can be reached at [email protected] or at (225) 344-2237.