In 1987 Southern Methodist University was slapped with the so-called “death penalty“ from the NCAA for rules violations in football. As a result of university players receiving huge payments from boosters, SMU‘s storied football program was eliminated for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. That means no games, no practices, and no scholarships. Since then, the ghost of Doak Walker has suffered in agony because Mustang football will never be the same.
This saga may soon sound familiar in the Wolverine state. The NCAA will soon give its final verdict and sanctions for University of Michigan violations in its basketball program. U of M booster Ed Martin pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge last spring after being accused of giving $600,000 to four former Wolverine basketball players. Allegedly, Martin took advantage of any opportunity to transmit funds to players, including stuffing birthday cakes for players with wads of cash.
If money is the measure for severe penalties, U of M basketball is a goner. We don‘t even know if $600,000 comes close to covering Ed Martin‘s alleged slush fund that benefited Michigan players from 1988 to 1999. Former U of M star Chris Webber may have received $280,000, himself, from the time he was a freshman in high school. Supposedly, Louis Bullock was receiving mounds of cash as late as 1999, two years after the Big Ten and U of M concluded their investigations of the Wolverine basketball program. Their conclusions: minor violations may have been committed by U of M. I sure would like to know their definition of major violations.
Does anyone really believe that Wolverine staff members didn‘t think it suspicious that Ed Martin often showed up at recruits‘ homes during coaches‘ visits in the 1990‘s? Why did Martin supposedly get preferential treatment for season tickets at U of M‘s home games? In hind-sight, it now makes more sense that the parade of poor, inner-city elite players seemed endless during the time of the celebrated Fab Five and successor basketball squads. The road to Ann Arbor was apparently paved with mega-$$$$$$$$$$$ for these superstar teens.
In addition to the huge sums of money involved here, there are other reasons to drop the H-bomb of penalties on the Wolverines. Millions upon millions were earned for the university and the Big Ten Conference in TV appearances, NCAA tournament runs, and merchandise - all with basketball players illegally bought and paid for.
Also, before passing final judgment, consider how Ed Martin allegedly earned the huge amounts that were stuffed into the pockets of Michigan basketball stars - gambling. Martin‘s alleged sports betting ring coupled with his influence over the Wolverine hoop program, sheds new light on the Fab Five era. Maybe Martin‘s role is a clue to U of M‘s inability to win a Big Ten or NCAA championship despite being the most talented team in the country - by far. And why did Chris Webber call that infamous timeout against North Carolina? Maybe Ed Martin knows the answers.
My recommendation to NCAA committee on infractions: put U of M basketball out of its misery so it can start anew. Silencing Chrysler Arena for a couple of years may be the only hope of achieving a clean program in Ann Arbor once and for all.