RENO, Nev. – The NCAA placed Nevada’s athletic department on probation for three years and fined it $1,500 on Thursday because of an ex-golf coach’s major rules violations but concluded there was no proof he gambled on college games and cleared all other sports of wrongdoing.
The NCAA investigation that began more than two years ago determined that Rich Merritt, former coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at various times, bought athletes beer, paid for meals and lodging, and helped cover travel expenses for one to try to qualify for the U.S. Open.
He also broke the rules by paying one woman Wolf Pack golfer $25 to complete two “crass acts” on a dare, one “involving the regurgitation of food and the other, spitting,” the NCAA said.
Nevada athletic director Cary Groth suspended Merritt for three matches after an internal investigation confirmed the allegations regarding meals and an airline ticket. He resigned in May 2008.
In addition to putting the school on probation through March 2013, each golf team loses the equivalent of half a scholarship for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons. The NCAA also publicly reprimanded and censured the school. Any new violations while on probation likely would bring stiffer sanctions.
Nevada officials had been most concerned about allegations leveled by a former women’s soccer coach at the school that Merritt had bet on sports in Nevada casinos in violation of NCAA rules.
The NCCA’s Committee on Infractions said in its report that it found no proof of that but noted investigators spoke to several people who “expressed their belief that the former head coach wagered on sporting events.”
Enforcement staff requested access to Merritt’s financial records to “confirm or repudiate this information.”
While the checking account “showed a significant number of transactions at casinos in Reno and Las Vegas,” Merritt refused access to his credit accounts, the NCAA said.
In addition to Merritt providing an airplane ticket for one golfer to fly to the U.S. Open Qualifying Sectional Tournament in Ohio in 2007, Merritt’s father paid for a golfer’s flight to U.S. Open Qualifying in Colorado in 2005.
The father, who was not named in the report, provided housing for team members a number of times and at least once paid for their $350 rounds of golf at his unidentified country club in California, the NCAA said.
University president Milt Glick said Thursday the penalties are appropriate. He said it was the school itself that helped provide information to the NCAA that resulted in Merritt’s resignation.
“The system worked,” Glick said.
Both the internal probe and subsequent NCAA investigation were triggered by the whistle-blower complaint filed by Terri Patraw, who was fired as soccer coach in 2007.
Groth said earlier the school’s internal probe had found no evidence of gambling or the incident involving the regurgitated food.
“An athletics program is always stronger for having gone through an investigation, an accreditation process or a self-review,” Groth said Thursday.
Patraw, who is suing the school for reinstatement, said in a statement that she felt vindicated by the NCAA findings even though they failed to prove her gambling allegations.