Over the past 11 years Randy Bennett has turned Saint Mary's College—a 4,100-student Catholic school nestled in the hills 20 miles east of San Francisco—into a regular NCAA tournament team, one that reached the Sweet 16 in 2010. In doing so, he developed a reputation as one of the finest coaches on the West Coast. Last Friday that reputation took a severe blow when the NCAA's Committee on Infractions charged Bennett, 50, with failure to monitor and promote an atmosphere of compliance. The violations primarily involve a former assistant, said to be Keith Moss, who, according to the NCAA report, provided impermissible benefits to three recruits from France. (Moss, who says he looks forward to an appeal, asserts that the majority of the violations occurred after he left the school.) In 2009 Moss reportedly helped place one, forward Remi Barry, at a California high school. "It's all about getting [Barry] to Saint Mary's College," Moss allegedly wrote to a high school coach. (Barry wound up at New Mexico State.) Also according to the report, several players participated in impermissible practice sessions at Saint Mary's arena with an outside trainer.
The school avoided a postseason ban, getting hit instead with probation, scholarship reductions and other limitations, but Bennett—who disputed the notion that he failed to monitor Moss's recruiting tactics—took the biggest hit. He'll be suspended for the first five conference games of next season and will join former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Baylor's Scott Drew and Marquette's Buzz Williams among recent coaches to serve suspensions stemming from violations by an assistant. While Bennett called the sanctions "clearly excessive," he's fortunate that they occurred when they did. Last fall the NCAA instituted stricter enforcement standards, including a bylaw that says coaches are "presumed to be responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach." Under the new penalty structure, a coach could be suspended for a half or a whole season, whether he knew what his assistant was up to or not.
It's no secret that basketball recruiting is plagued with improprieties. The NCAA's limited enforcement staff has made little headway. Perhaps the threat of lengthy suspensions will motivate more coaches to stop looking the other way.