MORAGA — The NCAA has placed Saint Mary's on four years of probation for a "failure to monitor its men's basketball program," reducing scholarships and placing other penalties on the team after it said the perennial mid-major power committed several recruiting violations.
A report by the NCAA Committee on Infractions released Friday found that Gaels coach Randy Bennett "acted unethically in his recruitment of international prospects" and "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance." Bennett will not be allowed to recruit off campus and will serve a five-game suspension next season.
Saint Mary's will still be allowed to participate in the West Coast Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament but can't play in preseason or in-season tournaments. The men's basketball program also will have a reduction in scholarships from 13 to 11 for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and an elimination of all foreign tours until the start of the 2017-18 season.
In addition, the NCAA charged an unnamed former assistant with unethical conduct, saying he "knowingly committed violations during the recruitment of three prospects." The report said that the assistant arranged for travel to the United States and lodging with a local family for at least one recruit and that Bennett was aware of the activity.
"These should have been red flags," Britton Banowsky, chair of the Committee on Infractions and commissioner of Conference USA, said during a conference call explaining the findings.
If the former assistant seeks employment at an NCAA member school in the next two years, he and the school must appear before the committee to determine if the school should be subject to the show-cause procedures. The NCAA also said Saint Mary's received "impermissible training and coaching sessions from trainers not employed by the school."
The university said in a statement that it will accept the findings in the report but will consider an appeal on the penalties.
"Saint Mary's was founded on principles of integrity, service and Catholic values and we expect all in our community to act according to those values," said Saint Mary's President Brother Ronald Gallagher. "We are proud of our achievements in athletics and of the commitment of our staff and students to the College's principles. We have taken — and will take — further steps to monitor our compliance and to ensure that our coaches, staff and students abide by all rules and regulations."
The program's rapid rise started when Bennett took over more than a decade ago.
Bennett has led the Gaels (25-5) to four of the last eight NCAA tournaments. They have developed a reputation as a mid-major worth watching, joining Gonzaga as the only schools to win at least 25 games each of the past six seasons. Duke, Kansas and BYU are the only other programs with a chance to keep pace in that club this season.
Saint Mary's has become a legitimate rival to second-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, beating the Bulldogs for the outright regular season and league tournament titles last year. It was the first time the Gaels held both titles in the same season and ended Gonzaga's 4-year run with at least one conference championship.