NCAA bans '96 All-Met wrestler for betting

McDonogh star Plienis implicated in Nebraska

January 11, 2001|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

McDonogh graduate J. R. Plienis, the 1996 All-Metro Wrestler of The Year, said last night that he has been banned from NCAA competition for betting on college and pro football games while wrestling for the University of Nebraska and for accepting a loan from his coach to pay gambling debts.

Plienis, 22, reached at his home last night, confirmed a report Tuesday on the Internet wrestling site InterMat that after betting weekly with a friend, he accumulated a debt by December 1998 and borrowed money from former Nebraska coach Tim Neumann to pay it off.

"I got in the hole, and I needed $500, so I asked Coach Neumann if he would lend it to me. He lent me $500, I paid him back after a couple of months, and I never thought it would come up again," Plienis told InterMat. He confirmed those quotes last night but declined to elaborate.

"Coach Neumann was just being a friend," he was quoted as saying. "My parents didn't have $500 to spare at any period of time. It was just a friend doing another friend a favor."

NCAA rules prohibit athletes from gambling on intercollegiate athletics and receiving cash or "extra benefits" from coaches. Violations can result in revoked eligibility.

"He was still 19. He didn't understand the magnitude of what he was doing. For a while, he bet on football - college and pro," Ron Plienis, J. R.'s father, told The Sun from his Edgemere home last night. "He owed some money and wasn't able to pay it. He borrowed money from the coach."

J. R. Plienis said last night he appealed the NCAA's decision but that it was denied.

Jane Jankowski, an official with the NCAA's enforcement division, would not comment on the case.

"Our policy, which actually follows what we're permitted to do by federal law, is we do not discuss individual student-athletes' cases," Jankowski said. "If a university so chooses to release information about those, that is their prerogative. We do not."

Jared Dahlgren, Nebraska sports information department's contact with its wrestling program, said Neumann - the college's all-time winningest coach in the sport - resigned in April amid an investigation into allegations he had given money to wrestlers.

Plienis was the Cornhuskers' starting heavyweight in the 1997-98 and 1998-99, twice qualifying for the NCAA championships. His two-season record was 53-25. He was the university's fifth wrestler to win more than 30 bouts as a freshman.

He took a redshirt year to train for and compete in the Olympic Trials, then transferred to Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania hoping to use his remaining two years of eligibility only to discover that his eligibility had been permanently revoked.

As a McDonogh senior, Plienis earned first-team All-Metro honors for the third straight year. He won his second state title and the high school national title, finishing 31-0 with a school-record 25 pins.

Ron Plienis said his son received a scholarship offer from an National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics affiliate school but was unsure if he would accept.

J. R. Plienis told InterMat that the investigation was prompted by a football player's gambling debts.

"We were led to believe that these violations were minor and that it would be a two- or three-match thing [suspension] and that he would have to take a class on gambling," said the elder Plienis. "I do think if he had stayed at Nebraska, he would have maintained his eligibility."

His son told InterMat: "I don't want to be remembered as the guy that got caught gambling and threw it all away. My actions have absolutely devastated my family. They worked their whole lives for me to get this. They are really upset that the whole thing got thrown away over six weeks of bad decisions."

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