Athletics vs. academics: Missouri basketball probe widens

Updated: August 29, 2003, 8:21 PM ET

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The main attraction in the lobby of the University of Missouri-Columbia's Engineering Building West is an electricity dynamo donated in 1882 by Thomas Edison.

A mile away, at the center of the Hearnes Center, a massive suspended scoreboard tracks the basketball Tigers' performance on the court below.

They are symbols of different -- some say complimentary, others say irreconcilable -- priorities: high scores on the court, high scores in the classroom.

Those worlds of books and basketballs are colliding in an expanded investigation of the entire men's basketball program, led by an electrical engineering professor. It has widened from a domestic assault case involving a troubled athlete and his girlfriend.

Ricky Clemons is the athlete, a point guard with a hardscrabble personal history.

Clemons attended at least five high schools, and showed round-ball skill while surviving without the presence of a mother or father, guided by stand-in big brothers and sympathetic coaches who fed, clothed and sheltered him.

Lacking a high school diploma or GED, Clemons still drew attention from college recruiters. He wanted to play big-time college ball, and was helped to enter a junior college with a winning basketball program, the College of Southern Idaho, where he could build an academic record and perhaps transfer to a more prominent program. Like Missouri.

Clemons' path to Columbia from Idaho, by way of a summer semester at a Kansas junior college where he racked up 24 academic credits, has raised questions now under investigation by Missouri and separately by the NCAA.

Witnesses interviewed by the NCAA have said it is scrutinizing Missouri's recruitment of Clemons. The NCAA won't comment.

Missouri coach Quin Snyder and assistant Lane Odom, who has known Clemons since the athlete's high school days, this year served Missouri-imposed suspensions from recruiting -- for three weeks and five weeks, respectively -- for making more recruiting calls to Clemons than NCAA rules allowed.

An Associated Press review of Clemons' college transcripts, covering his freshman fall 2000 semester at Southern Idaho through last fall's semester at Missouri, showed the athlete generally made good grades -- A's and B's -- in courses related to athletics.

But he flunked or made low grades in several non-athletic courses.

For example, he received A's in five physical education courses that freshman semester -- and a D in theater history.

By the fall 2001 semester at Southern Idaho, Clemons flunked "Concepts of Biology" and "Math in Modern Society," while receiving A's in "Basketball for Men" and "Basketball Weight Training for Men."

"I know he was way short" of having enough credits to enroll at Missouri, Snyder said in a sworn deposition taken by Boone County Prosecutor Kevin Crane.

But the head coach added that others handled scrutiny of athletes' academic qualifications: "You know, it's not efficient for me to get involved in all the details of this stuff."

Odom, in his sworn deposition, said Missouri worked with former Southern Idaho assistant coach Jay Cyriac and Ryan Wolf, then head coach at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan., to enroll Clemons at the junior college.

"At some point our office communicated with Barton County -- or Ryan Wolf, the coach there -- about what he needed to become eligible. What he would need to graduate," Odom told Crane.

Odom also said Clemons didn't check Barton County's schedule of classes, determine which courses to take or how many credits he needed to qualify to enroll at Missouri.

"We did it for him. Along with Southern Idaho and with Barton County. All three working together to put together his schedule," said Odom, who has declined recent interview requests from the AP.

Snyder has also declined several interview requests, but said he in a statement this week he welcomes and is cooperating with the expanded investigation.

The summer academic program cobbled together for Clemons included five physical education classes at Barton County, plus three correspondence courses from Brigham Young University and one correspondence course from Adams State College in Colorado.

Together, successful completion of the nine courses gave Clemons two dozen academic credits in a span of less than two months.

"I would agree it's a lot of hours," Snyder said in response to Crane's questions.

Clemons' transcript from Barton County shows a widely varying academic performance: an A, two B's, a C and a D in "Introduction to Exercise Science."

At the same time, by correspondence with Brigham Young he made an A in "Family Interaction" and B's in "Principles of Biology" and "Human Anatomy." Clemons made a B in his single correspondence course with Adams State, in "Communication Arts."

His former girlfriend and domestic assault victim, Jessica Bunge, has alleged that during a visit to Great Bend, she saw Clemons receive answers to tests.

She has also alleged in media interviews that at Missouri, she saw others doing academic work for Clemons. However, at the end of his first semester at Missouri, Clemons had flunked one class, made Ds in two others and had a grade point average of 1.78 -- which put him on academic probation.

Bunge has been interviewed by both the NCAA and investigators for Missouri. Clemons has been publicly silent about the NCAA and Missouri investigations.

Wolf, now an assistant coach at Murray State University in Kentucky, on Friday refused to comment on the matter.

Cyriac said in a telephone interview he has twice been interviewed by the NCAA but signed a pledge not to disclose details. He left Southern Idaho for a job as DePaul's director of basketball operations, but the job was withdrawn this summer after DePaul learned of the incomplete NCAA investigation of Missouri.

Elson Floyd, the University of Missouri system president, said he expanded the school's investigation this week because "academic integrity goes to the heart of what we are as a university."

Floyd's directive put the internal investigation under leadership of Michael Devaney, an electrical engineering professor and immediate past chairman of the campus Faculty Council.

"It will be an objective and fair investigation," said Devaney, who has taught at the campus since 1969.

Bill Underwood, a Baylor University law professor who has led three of that fellow Big 12 conference school's basketball investigations over the years, including a current one, had some simple advice for Devaney.

"You have to be skeptical of everything you hear and be willing to look behind what people tell you and take a hard look at everything," Underwood said. "I mean, everything."

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index