`Xbox' system sets off Terps' scandal

Player asked parents for it at dinner with recruiter

February 06, 2003|By Jon Morgan and Lem Satterfield | Jon Morgan and Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland football recruiter who lost his job for allegedly giving cash to a Baltimore prospect did so when the youth said he wanted a $200 "Xbox" video game system for Christmas, according to sources familiar with the incident.

Neither the recruiter, Rod Sharpless, nor the youth, Victor Abiamiri of the Gilman School, has spoken publicly about the matter - which Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen yesterday termed a "terrible mistake."

"I have known this person for 25 years and he is a very good person and a very good man. And he is going through a tough time right now. My heart and prayers go out to him," said Friedgen, in his first public comment on the incident.

Sharpless allegedly gave Abiamiri money on more than one occasion, totaling a little more than $300. NCAA rules strictly forbid schools from luring student-athletes with gifts or cash.

Abiamiri has returned the money, sources said.

The bulk of the $300 came after Abiamiri, at a dinner out with Sharpless and his parents, expressed a desire for an Xbox but was told he would not be getting one for Christmas because it would be costly and might interfere with his studies, according to several sources familiar with the youth's account who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Later in the evening, Sharpless discreetly passed him money and told him to buy it himself, sources said.

Friedgen yesterday did not refer to Sharpless by name or reveal any details of the alleged recruiting violation.

Friedgen hired Sharpless in 2001. Both attended Maryland in 1972, Friedgen as a graduate assistant for the athletic department and Sharpless as an undergraduate and linebacker for the football team.

Several sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the 53-year-old assistant coach resigned after Friedgen was informed last week about the alleged payments.

The university is conducting an investigation and has notified the NCAA. Friedgen said he believes the incident is a so-called "secondary violation" that will not, under NCAA rules, result in significant penalties.

A university may not, however, field a player it has improperly recruited. Abiamiri, one of the nation's top high school defensive linemen, yesterday committed to play for Notre Dame.

Abiamiri's attorney, David B. Irwin, declined to comment. Sharpless did not respond to messages left at his home. A Maryland athletic department spokesman declined to comment.

Made by Microsoft Corp., Xbox is a popular console game that is played on a television screen. It retails for about $200, with individual games costing $50. The Xbox was launched by Microsoft in 2001 to compete with Sony's top-selling Playstation 2. In addition to games, the Xbox can play DVDs and audio CDs and permits users to play over the Internet.

Friedgen, at a news conference to announce the year's recruits, defended the university. "We are committed to running an honest program and a clean program. I think you can look at my record for 35 years and it will show that," he said.

"No coach can guarantee every single person associated with the program will always act appropriately. However, if a mistake is made, we will fix it," he said.

Sun staff writers Christian Ewell and Kevin Van Valkenburg contributed to this article.

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