The National Junior College Athletic Association will begin investigating the Howard Community College men's basketball program this weekto determine whether the team conducted illegal practices earlier this month, said NJCAA executive director George Killian.
NJCAA rules prohibit teams from practicing between Aug. 1 and Sept. 16, the official start of the season, so students can adjust to classes before starting athletic practices, Killian said. Games begin in November.
If the NJCAA finds the program in violation, Killian said, it could face anything from "a simple reprimand to probation."
HCC athletic director Tom Carbotti and basketball coach Wheeler Brown this week said the rule had not been violated.
"We have done nothing wrong," Carbotti said. "We are not in violation of any NJCAA policy."
According to NJCAA rules, a practice has occurred if a coach and team members participate in field, floor or on-court activity.
AlthoughCarbotti and Brown say there have been no formal team practices thismonth, Brown has supervised twice-weekly "open gym" sessions at the school this summer at which team members were present. The sessions were open to the public.
At one session, on Aug 1., a majority of the team was present and practicing drills as Brown stood on the courtissuing instructions. During that session, Brown discussed the team's future with a Howard County Sun reporter.
A team member this week said Brown had supervised players during at least two sessions thismonth, on Aug. 1 and Aug. 8.
At the later session, "Everybody that was practicing was going out for the team in the fall," he said.
But Brown insists the team hasn't practiced together since mid-July and denied being at the gym on Aug. 1. He said he was there briefly on Aug. 8, but spent most of his time at the pool filling in for a swim instructor.
"The kids were practicing on their own," Brown said of the open gym sessions. "It wasn't restricted to kids who play at the school. It was open gym time, so it was open to the public."
After the NJCAA began making inquiries early this week, Carbotti said, he instructed players not to come to the open gym sessions "to avoid any further conflict."
The sessions remain open to the public.
Although the NJCAA made its initial inquiries with HCC on Monday, theinvestigation is not expected to begin until tomorrow, when association investigator Wayne Baker returns from vacation.
Further complicating the issue is that Brown works with a summer league team comprised of five HCC recruits and six other members of the HCC team.
Itis unclear whether the NJCAA would permit the HCC team to practice together with its coach past Aug. 1 as part of the summer league.
"If they were practicing as Howard Community College, then we have a problem," Killian said from the NJCAA office headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The summer team is part of the Urban Coalition Summer basketball league at Dunbar High School in Washington. It is considered one of the best for college and pro players in the country.
Brown has guided the HCC team, called the Express, to an overall record of 28-26 since the program's inception in 1989.
The third-year coach has already netted seven county high school recruits for the fall and returns four starters from last year's squad.
He also has two returning substitutes and three transfer students coming out for the team.
Last season, the Express posted a 15-15 record.
The team has lost eight players because of poor grades after the first semester of last season, but five returned to the lineup after taking inter-session courses during January.