By DAN GOLDMAN
Putting the program's future in question, the Columbia College basketball program yesterday was placed on probation for at least one year, after an internal investigation uncovered violations of the State Commission on Athletics bylaws.
The Claim Jumpers committed at least six commission violations an undetermined number of times over three years, said C. Logan McKechnie, commissioner of the Central Valley Conference.
The school's internal investigation indicated violations of several conference and state rules, including allowing student athletes to get books on credit; have jobs that were not open to other students; live in housing without paying until financial aid checks came in; and having members of the athletic department managing their money, McKechnie said.
Penalties Columbia College's basketball program will face: A minimum probation of one year; the Claim Jumpers' 72 victories from the past three seasons will be forfeited (including the 2000-01 co-conference championship); returning players from last season's team could be ruled ineligible for the 2003-04 season; the team will be banned from post-season play in the 2003-04 season; and the school must make monthly reports to the conference board.
Additionally, all individual awards team members earned since the 2000-01 season must be forfeited. These include an all-state team selection, one conference co-most valuable player award, three first-team all-conference selections and two honorable mentions.
"I see it as tragic," college President Dr. Jim Riggs said. "It's a situation where what we have to do as an institution is identify the problem, and look at how it got there and how to fix it."
Columbia College launched its internal investigation, with the aid of an outside investigator, after complaints were filed by Jacquie Davis-Van Huss, mother of former Columbia team member Marc Wilson. The complaints went to the college athletic department and Riggs' office in mid-December and late January. Wilson has since transferred to Reedley College.
Davis-Van Huss alleged that Claim Jumpers Head Coach Andrew Vasher and Assistant Coach Rich Murphy were collecting and pooling players' financial aid and work studies checks and distributing the cash unfairly, leaving some players behind in rent and other bills.
Vasher and Murphy declined to comment pending the outcome of Columbia College's review of investigation findings.
McKechnie said Columbia's investigation into Davis-Van Huss' allegations revealed other, less significant violations, as well.
The school reported its findings to conference and commission officials, resulting in the automatic probation.
After Riggs and athletic director George Railey review investigation findings, they will determine whether Vasher and/or his coaching staff remain.
Whether returning players are still eligible to participate will also be reviewed, McKechnie said.
Riggs said decisions on players' eligibility will be made "in a week or two," while decisions about the rest of the program could take "any number of months."
Beyond the one-year probation, there is an outside chance that the basketball program could be suspended for the 2003-04 season within the next six weeks or eliminated completely.
"We're reviewing the entire athletic program," Riggs said. "The discussion has been: Do we need to take a time out and see what went wrong? But right now, no decision has been made."
The penalties Columbia College now faces are the same as those imposed on fellow conference schools Porterville College, Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias in 2001 for similar violations. Those probations each lasted one season.
Columbia College also conducted an internal investigation of its basketball program in 2001, but did not report any violations.
"I don't think (the 2001 investigation) was as thorough," McKechnie said. "There were different people on this investigation.
"I cannot say enough laudatory comments on how the school has handled (the new investigation)," McKechnie added. "I don't know if anyone could ask the school to handle the problem any better than it has been handled.
"Personally, I don't think the violations were intentionally done. I think they were misinformed and misled and trying to help the students.
"There was no viciousness intended, it was just stupid," McKechnie said.
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