Only in the byzantine rulebook of the NCAA could eating a cheesesteak become a rule violation. And only in Philadelphia would something like that happen.
A few years ago, Villanova was punished for, among other things, bringing recruits to a cheesesteak restaurant. That punishment came down in 2004, representing one of the few run-ins between the NCAA and area colleges. The NCAA started keeping track of major infractions cases in 1953 and since then only Temple, La Salle and Villanova have been caught committing those. Drexel, Penn and Saint Joseph’s, as well as smaller colleges Philadelphia University, Cabrini, University of the Sciences, Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr and Haverford have not been sanctioned for major infractions.
Here’s a rundown of the NCAA sanctions received by Temple, La Salle and Villanova and why they received them, from cheesesteaks to assumed aliases to threats of revoked scholarships.
Total infraction cases: 1 (2007)
Why Temple got punished: Temple used a ringer during the 2004-05 men’s tennis season. This ringer — the NCAA withheld his name — transferred to Temple from a junior college in spring 2005 but was ruled ineligible to play tennis. The previous semester, another Temple men’s tennis player had quit the team. So then-coach Bill Hoehne came up with a solution: he played the ringer in several tennis matches under the name of the player who had left Temple in the fall.
Hoehm went to great lengths to not get caught. Normally before tennis matches, the players are introduced by the coach or as part of a ceremonial thing like you’d see before a basketball game. The NCAA said Hoehm would either request that these ceremonies be skipped or mumble the ringer’s name. Before the tennis team prepared to play in the Atlantic 10 championships in 2005, the tennis team visited an associate athletic director athletics. Hoehm told the ringer to stay behind in his dorm during this meeting so the associate athletic director wouldn’t get suspicious.
It was at the Atlantic 10 championships that Temple got caught. An opposing team recognized the name and knew the ringer was not the guy who had left Temple months earlier.
The punishment: The NCAA banned the men’s tennis program from postseason play for one season.
Total infraction cases: 2 (1970 and 2004)
Why Villanova got punished: In 1970, it was for a pretty stupid reason. A men’s track recruit was given a second university-comped trip to Villanova. He was only supposed to get one of these visits.
The 2004 sanctions also dealt with something a little more… delicious. The NCAA ruled that the Villanova men’s basketball team had let a couple of recruits be in contact with the coaching staff during a visit when contact was not allowed. Being Philadelphia, some of this not-allowed contact went down at an unnamed “cheesesteak” restaurant (yes, the NCAA put cheesesteak in quotation marks):
At that, the coaching staff member suggested that prospect 4 and his high-school coach, who accompanied him on the unofficial visit, get into the high-school coach’s car and follow the Villanova coaches to a local Philadelphia ‘cheesesteak’ restaurant. At the restaurant, prospect 4 and his high-school coach sat at a table separated from the institution’s coaching staff members. During the time at the cheesesteak restaurant, there was no conversation between prospect 4, his high-school coach and the Villanova coaches. The cheesesteak restaurant idea went so well with prospect 4 that the Villanova coaches decided to incorporate it into the remaining unofficial visits for the summer of 2001, which included visits from prospects 1 and 2.
While at the restaurant, prospect 2 and his party sat at a table separated by the coaching staff members by about two tables. Prospect 2 reported that he laughed and joked around with the coaches at the restaurant.
NO LAUGHING AND JOKING ABOUT “CHEESESTEAKS!”
The punishment: Nothing really happened after the 1970 infraction. And in 2004 the hoops team received two years of probation.
La Salle University
Total infraction cases: 1 (1968)
Why La Salle got punished: Unlike the funny problems highlighted above, these sanctions were serious and illustrated poor treatment of men’s basketball athletes by the coaching staff at the time, led by Jim Harding.
The NCAA ruled that Harding’s staff had set up an incentives system for his team. He threatened to reduce or terminate the athletic scholarships his players were receiving if they performed poorly. Cash would be given to athletes who performed well. Harding also convinced La Salle to withdraw financial aid from two basketball players who quit the team, including one athlete who quit while claiming verbal abuse from Harding. At the time, NCAA scholarships were good for four years and couldn’t be revoked even when athletes quit.
The punishment: La Salle was banned from postseason play for two years. Harding was fired after that 1968 season but perhaps not for mistreatment of his players. He said La Salle fired him after he punched the chairman of La Salle’s board.