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Despite major violation, Terps escape serious penalty

Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- Maryland was placed on one year of probation by the NCAA on Monday because an assistant football coach committed a "major" violation by giving money to a high school recruit.

The NCAA's infractions committee determined that coach Rod Sharpless gave heralded prospect Victor Abiamiri cash in amounts ranging from $5 to $200 five different times in order to gain an edge in the recruiting competition.

Sharpless "formed a pattern of deliberate violations with a prospect of elite stature that spanned virtually the entire period the assistant coach was permitted to recruit the prospect under NCAA rules," according to a statement released by the NCAA.

The committee found another coach gave a player a T-shirt and hat worth $20, a move the NCAA deemed a "secondary" infraction.

But Maryland escaped serious punishment for the violations, largely because of actions the school took after the allegations arose. It forced Sharpless to resign and stopped recruiting both players involved, steps the NCAA called "commendable."

Most punishments for major infractions involve at least two years of probation and often include a ban from postseason play or cuts in funding, said Thomas Yeager, chairman of the infractions committee.

"A one-year probation is about as short as it gets," he said.

Under the probation terms, Maryland will have to develop an educational program on NCAA rules and make periodic reports to the body that governs intercollegiate athletics. After it comes off the probation, which began Monday, any future infractions will be subject to NCAA repeat offender rules.

"I think the NCAA recognizes that we have institutional control here," head coach Ralph Friedgen said. "There was no effort to deceive the NCAA."

The NCAA also accepted Maryland's agreement with Sharpless that he will not seek employment at an NCAA school for two football seasons.

Sharpless allegedly gave Abiamiri cash to buy a a video game machine several days before Christmas.

Yeager said Sharpless gave Abiamiri one payment of $200 after overhearing the prospect have a conversation with his mother about the video game system. Sharpless also allegedly left $100 in Abiamiri's basketball shoe to mark the student's birthday during a visit in mid-January.

Other payments were small amounts, such as $5 or $10, Yeager said.

Sharpless resigned in February after an internal investigation and Maryland stopped recruiting Abiamiri, who eventually signed with Notre Dame.

Both Sharpless and Abiamiri acknowledged the payments occurred, Yeager said. No other football coaches were involved in the infraction.

Maryland reported the results of its probe, conducted by an outside consultant, to the NCAA in hopes of staving off sanctions. Maryland officials met with NCAA officials June 13 to lobby for having the infraction involving Sharpless labeled "secondary."

The NCAA ordered Al Seamonson, the coach who gave a player a hat and T-shirt, to donate $20 to charity. It also issued an official letter of reprimand that will remain in his personnel file for three years and froze his compensation package at its current level for fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

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