LSU will be barred from 1999 postseason tournaments and lose six scholarships in the next three years because a booster paid Lester Earl $5,000 to play basketball there, the NCAA announced Wednesday.
Earl had accused former LSU assistant Johnny Jones of paying him to attend the school, but the NCAA investigation cleared both Jones and retired head coach Dale Brown, who was in charge of the program during Earl's brief stay at LSU.
"There was no evidence to show that either of the coaches were involved in the cash payments," said Bonnie Slatton, chairman of the NCAA infractions committee.
LSU will be on probation for the next three years, losing two scholarships each year. The school will also forfeit the five victories Earl played in.
The investigation followed Earl's transfer to Kansas. Earl played briefly for LSU and was refused a release by Brown when he decided to leave.
Brown, an outspoken critic of the NCAA, retired at the end of the 1997 season after 25 seasons with the Tigers. He said all along that neither he nor Jones, now an assistant at Memphis, had given Earl money.
On Wednesday, Brown blasted Earl's grant of immunity in the investigation.
"I took great pride in doing my best to run an honorable program at LSU and I think our 25-year history speaks well for itself," Brown said in a statement. "However, there are many rules that need to be changed because they breed deceit and hypocrisy in college athletics."
The LSU basketball program has had a complete turnover of coaches and players since Earl played early during the 1996-97 season before transferring to Kansas.
Earl claimed Jones made cash payments to him of about $6,000. Slatton said the investigation found no evidence to support the charge.
In its own investigation, LSU admitted that Bryan had paid Earl as much as $2,000. Thschool also admitted that:
- Earl received improper medical treatment before he enrolled.
- Jones made a number of improper telephone calls to Earl during recruitment.
- An LSU team physician arranged surgery for Earl's brother.
- Earl and members of his family got a free meal from Baton Rouge restaurant owner Gus Piazza.
LSU had offered to reduce scholarships by two, two and one over the next three years and to reduce official visits. The school had asked to remain eligible for post season play and televised games.
The school said it would probably appeal the loss of a sixth scholarship and the ban on postseason play. Not taking part in the SEC tournament would cost the school $850,000, athletic director Joe Dean said.
The loss of scholarships bothered current LSU coach John Brady the most.
"We can't make up for recruiting mistakes or normal attrition," Brady said.
The NCAA found that Earl received about $5,000 from Bryan after Brown and Jones sent Earl to Bryan to see about a summer job.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that either of the coaches knew that the student-athlete would ask for cash or the representative would offer it," said James Wharton, who was on LSU's internal investigation panel.
The NCAA said that LSU did not demonstrate a lack of control, which would have led to tougher penalties.
"This is the kind of violation you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about, because you cannot know what a booster is doing," said Slatton, who is compliance officer at Iowa.
LSU has begun trying to reinforce its education of boosters on rules violations, hoping they will realize that doing more than buying tickets, contributing to official causes and rooting for the teams will hurt the school, Dean said.
"We can not get the message out strongly enough," Dean said. He called Bryan's payment "the violation that brought us to our knees."
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved