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St. John's gets two years of probation

INDIANAPOLIS -- St. John's was placed on two years'
probation and will lose one scholarship next season for making
improper payments to a former men's basketball player.

The NCAA's committee on infractions on Thursday accepted all of
the school's self-imposed penalties, which included a postseason
tournament ban in 2004-05, a reduction of one scholarship in
2005-06 and 2006-07, vacating all wins in which former player Abe
Keita participated and returning 90 percent of the money it
received from the Big East for participating in the 2002 NCAA
Tournament.

St. John's athletic director Chris Monasch was satisfied with
the decision.

"We're very pleased," Monasch said. "We feel we have a
stronger program in place and there is now a point of emphasis with
compliance by the athletic department and the university."

Keita alleged he was given $300 each month by a member of the
basketball staff, and an investigation by the school found evidence
to support the claim, violating the NCAA's "extra-benefit" rules.

The school said the violations involved only one player and that
the inquiry involved no current players, coaches or other athletic
staff. The school said it believes the funds were provided with a
humanitarian intent, but the payments still were judged to be
inappropriate and unacceptable.

Committee chairman Gene Marsh credited the cooperation of former
director of basketball operations Alex Evans and the quick response
by St. John's officials as reasons more severe sanctions were not
issued. Evans admitted wrongdoing during the investigation and
testified before the committee in February.

"We considered the self-imposed penalties and the corrective
actions, and once the allegations came to light, they were
immediately investigated," Marsh said during a 40-minute
conference call. "The director of basketball operations was
genuinely sorrowful he'd done this."

The infractions occurred when Mike Jarvis was coaching St.
John's. Jarvis was fired in December 2003. Committee officials
ruled the payments were made by a former director of basketball
operations from September 2000 to February 2004.

Keita also was given $2,400 to help pay tuition in 1999-2000
when he was enrolled at St. John's but did not academically qualify
for a scholarship. The committee ruled St. John's provided extra
benefits to Keita by making special arrangements for him to rent an
apartment at a reduced rate.

The committee criticized the university and Jarvis for failing
to monitor the financial situation.

"I guess you'd say it was special treatment," Marsh said.
"But we received a thorough explanation from the university
president that they do deal in deferred payments with other
students, so this was not unusual."

St. John's could be sanctioned as a repeat violator if there is
another major infraction in the program during the next five years.

During the probationary period, St. John's must file financial
details of international student-athletes and track housing
expenses for all athletes annually. School officials must also file
a report by June 30 that outlines a comprehensive compliance
educational program for athletic department employees.

Marsh said Keita did not cooperate in the investigation and that
Jarvis submitted written answers to questions although he did not
appear during the committee hearing in February.

Marsh called it an isolated case and said the committee also
considered St. John's history of not having a major infraction
since 1972.

"Whenever anything like this happens we have to recognize there
are no excuses," St. John's President Rev. Donald J. Harrington
said. "The NCAA never charged us with institutional control
problems. A small piece went wrong and that can happen in a
university or corporation. We'll do all we can to ensure that
doesn't happen again."