UM probes allegations on recruiting

Coach reportedly gave Gilman star about $300

UM probes alleged recruiting violations

February 04, 2003|By Jon Morgan, Lem Satterfield and Christian Ewell | Jon Morgan, Lem Satterfield and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland, College Park is investigating allegations that one of its coaches improperly gave money to a hotly recruited Baltimore high school football player.

The university acknowledged that a "review" of potential recruiting violations is under way, but would not confirm details. Sources familiar with the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said inside linebackers coach Rod Sharpless gave Victor Abiamiri of the Gilman School a little more than $300 in several payments. The money was returned to the university, the sources said.

Sharpless has resigned, according to a university source. Sharpless is a Maryland graduate and former player who has coached at College Park for eight seasons and was responsible for recruiting in the Baltimore area.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college sports, has been notified of the allegations.

This is a blow to a program that had been on the rise since Ralph Friedgen became head coach in 2001. During the past two seasons, the Terrapins have compiled a 21-5 record, won the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 2001, and gone to the Orange Bowl and the Peach Bowl.

The incident may have cost the university an important addition to its defensive line. Abiamiri, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, was a defensive end for Gilman, which had a 10-0 record last season and was The Sun's No. 1-ranked team. He had told friends that he was leaning toward attending Maryland, where two of his brothers play football.

Instead, he is expected to announce tomorrow - the first day that rules allow players to sign letters of intent - that he will attend the University of Notre Dame, said his brother Rob Abiamiri, a UM wide receiver.

He confirmed that his brother had been involved in a recruiting incident involving Maryland, but declined to go into details.

Victor Abiamiri has not been contacted by the NCAA or accused of wrongdoing, said his family's attorney, David B. Irwin of Baltimore.

"I think if there is something being investigated, that when that is completed the outcome will not affect Victor," Irwin said. "We will cooperate with any investigation."

Sharpless did not respond to messages left at his office and through the university.

The UM athletic department issued this statement: "Based on the information that has been collected and shared with the NCAA, we believe that the alleged violation is secondary in nature and that there would be no institutional ramifications arising from this review. Additional comment will be forthcoming when the review is complete in about two weeks."

Spokesman David Haglund declined to comment further.

The university has hired a suburban Kansas City, Mo.-based law firm, Bond, Schoenick and King, which has begun to conduct the inquiry.

NCAA violations fall into two categories: major infractions and secondary violations. The second group is defined as "isolated or inadvertent in nature" that provide a minimal recruiting edge. By reporting the matter to the NCAA, the university could avoid penalties.

NCAA spokeswoman Laronica Conway said: "We have received something from that institution, but beyond that I cannot comment."

Sources familiar with the probe said Abiamiri recognized the impropriety of the alleged payments and agreed to return them. Early last week, a confidant of Abiamiri's informed Friedgen of the payments, according to sources close to the football player. Maryland began its internal probe, leading to notification of the NCAA.

NCAA rules prohibit school officials from providing gifts or cash to recruits. A player is barred by NCAA regulations from attending a university that has violated rules in his or her recruitment.

"Somebody was misguidedly trying to help," said a source sympathetic to Abiamiri. Another source who had discussed the matter with the player said the cash payments were "$20 here, $100 there" for no specific purpose over the period of Abiamiri's recruitment.

Abiamiri's parents did not respond to requests for comment.

Abiamiri, 17, is ranked among the nation's best high school players and is considered the best prospect at defensive end. An "A" student with solid college admission test scores, he was recruited by Maryland, Notre Dame, Princeton University, Stanford and the universities of Miami and North Carolina.

Had the Terrapins signed him, Abiamiri would have boosted the program in two ways: by signaling that the school could land a top prospect from the state, among prospects who previously were lost to more glamorous teams elsewhere, and by filling a quality gap in the defensive line. The school fielded two nonscholarship walk-ons in its recent appearance at the Peach Bowl.

"One of Maryland's problems has always been recruiting. The state ... doesn't turn out many blue-chip football players," said Murray Sperber, an Indiana University professor and author of a number of books on college sports, including Shake Down the Thunder, a history of Notre Dame football.

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