NCAA penalizes Saint Mary's for recruiting violations

MORAGA, Calif.

At a news conference Friday afternoon head basketball coach Randy Bennett called them "harsh," but also said he accepts sanctions to his program handed down by the NCAA.

"I'm not proud of it, we're not perfect," Bennett said. "I've made some mistakes along the way here. And there's some things if I could do it over I'd do it differently. But at this point we need to try to move on and make sure we're not in this situation again."

The penalties include putting the Gaels on probation for four years and no off campus recruiting for Coach Bennett. He will also be suspended for five games next season, and the program will lose two of 13 scholarships for two seasons.

The punishment, however, is not as bad as it could have been. The good news for St. Mary's is that even on this probation, they will still be allowed to play in the NCAA tournament, they can compete for conference titles, and they'll still be allowed to play games on television, all of which are important.

St. Mary's has risen from a last place team to perennial power under Bennett, who has been guiding the Gaels for 12 years. The key to his success has been attracting quality international players, especially the top talent from Australia. But it's the international recruitment that got them into trouble here. Ironically, none of the three players in question has ever played for St. Mary's.

The severity of sanctions hanging over this small, upscale school in Moraga certainly came as a big surprise.

"The penalties were, uh, harsh," Bennett said. "Like I said, most of things in this, we agreed with the NCAA. And we've accepted responsibility, there's very little we disagree on. But, I do think these penalties, they were more harsh than I expected."

St. Mary's President Brother Ronald Gallagher added, "We're certainly disappointed at the final outcome," said

The NCAA says Bennett had knowledge of an assistant coach's recruiting violations during the 2008 to 2009 season that primarily involved the assistant's efforts to lure a French basketball player to St. Mary's.

The NCAA, apparently, felt that Bennett was looking the other way at some of the recruiting tactics that went over the line and maybe did not come clean as quickly as the NCAA would have liked. That factors into the punishment.

ABC7 News has learned the former assistant is Keith Moss, who left the college in 2009. In 2010, Moss was accused by the California Interscholastic Federation of "playing agent" for Del Oro High School star Remi Barry, from France.

The facts in that case match the current NCAA allegations. The player received tennis shoes and clothing from the St. Mary's assistant as well as airfare, housing, and tuition from a host family while attending high school.

St. Mary's officials insist the major violations have nothing to do with their star players from Australia.

"This major infractions case and what this is about did not have anything to do with our current, former, prospective Australian student athletes," said St. Mary's Athletic Director Mark Orr.

Some students think the NCAA overreacted.

"It's pretty sad, especially being that Santa Clara is tomorrow," said St. Mary's student Emily Bassett. "It's the last game of the year and this is just added stress for the guys that they just didn't need to deal with."

ABC7 News reached former St. Mary's Assistant Keith Moss, but he declined to comment on the NCAA's findings.

St. Mary's officials say they are still deciding whether to appeal.

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