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Full-Court Press

By Paul Arnett

Friday, January 26, 2001

Shimonovich case
signals need for control

THE case involving Haim Shimonovich wouldn't be so troubling if it were an isolated incident. It's not.

Over the past several years, the University of Hawaii athletic department has been involved in numerous inquiries by the NCAA, some made public, others not.

Perhaps Shimonovich's 22-game suspension isn't as flagrant a violation as one that carries automatic probation, but if enough minor infractions are assessed, pretty soon the big boys in Kansas start to wonder just what's going on, and they come a calling.

Shimonovich is an athlete who doesn't fall into the average category. First, he is not an American citizen, so his background isn't as readily available for review. Once all the paperwork was completed, UH discovered Shimonovich played in a pro league in Israel, which is an NCAA violation.

Sure, there are extenuating circumstances. There usually are in these cases. But before you start handing out scholarships, you need to clear these matters, so there are no unpleasant surprises later. With the NCAA, asking for forgiveness -- rather than permission -- isn't a sound philosophy.

Shimonovich's two months in limbo was a distraction as well, made worse after Bosko Radovic broke his leg and Troy Ostler was sidelined for several games with a sprained ankle. UH coach Riley Wallace was forced to make adjustments on the fly, which hurt the team's development.

It's similar to what happened five years ago after Tes Whitlock's eligibility came into question over grade transcripts. That mishap led to a 16-game suspension that came dangerously close to warranting a widespread investigation.

This past summer, the NCAA launched a preliminary investigation that carried into fall over questionable practices in the athletic department. WAC commissioner Karl Benson confirmed it at football media day last July.

"But these kinds of things happen fairly regularly," Benson said. "They are often handled over the telephone and the NCAA doesn't have to come on campus, if they feel it isn't warranted."

Still, there were a lot of nervous people walking around for several months waiting to see if the investigation would move forward. Fortunately for the athletic department, the NCAA, which interviewed past coaches and current administrators about these allegations, that included questionable recruiting practices, let the matter rest -- for now.

THE important thing here is for the athletic department to correct these miscues -- real or perceived. If the assistant coaches have any doubts as to whether they accidentally crossed a line, report it, deal with it and try not to let it happen again.

It's not easy for the coaches and administrators. One look at that NCAA rule book, filled with all its articles and by-laws, is enough to make them seek another line of work. The danger is, some might throw the book in the backseat of their cars and say, "To hell with it."

That's not a viable alternative for the NCAA, especially if these serious men in coats and ties get the sense you're a repeat offender. One of their favorite phrases is lack of institutional control. If it doesn't send a shiver down your spine, it should, because it could cripple UH's fragile program.

The athletic department is not out of the fiscal woods. Errors in judgment like these need correcting, before one minor transgression sends the whole thing tumbling down for good.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.
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