The Saint Mary's basketball program is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Despite a 25-5 record, the Gaels are the talk of college basketball thanks to sanctions recently handed down by the NCAA.
According to an official statement from NCAA.org, the sanctions include four years of probation, a reduction in scholarships for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and recruiting restrictions.
The NCAA targeted head coach Randy Bennett for failing to monitor and promote an atmosphere of compliance and cited inappropriate handling of the international recruiting process as the reason for the sanctions:
Saint Mary’s College of California failed to monitor its men’s basketball program and a former assistant men’s basketball coach acted unethically in his recruitment of international prospects, according to a decision announced today by the Division I Committee on Infractions. The case also includes a failure to monitor and a failure to promote an atmosphere for compliance by the head men’s basketball coach as well as impermissible training and coaching sessions.
The Gaels are one of the most successful mid-major programs in the country. Unlike most mid-majors that can withstand a few years without the usual amount of talent, the Gaels have to remain competitive with fellow mid-major power Gonzaga to continue the high level of success they've come to expect.
While the NCAA sanctions may seem a bit harsh for the vague infractions that the program committed, they are fortunate that they are still eligible to participate in the postseason in 2013.
With a dark cloud hanging over the program, recruiting will prove to be difficult. Since their West Coast Conference rivals compete for many of the same recruits, the sanctions will be a big blow in their quest to keep up with the Bulldogs.
That factor alone makes this year's postseason even more important for the future of the St. Mary's program.
As we've seen with other teams that have been hurt by NCAA sanctions, winning can erase a lot of problems that arise in the wake of punishments. In football, Ohio State was able to go undefeated while under the weight of sanctions, and it didn't hurt the program one bit in terms of recruiting.
This is obviously a slightly different situation. Saint Mary's isn't the national brand that the Buckeyes are in football, but the principle remains the same. The best way for a school to emerge from sanctioning unscathed is to show that it can still win.
If the Gaels, who are almost a lock to wind up in the NCAA tournament, can manage to make a deep run in the tourney, it will give them the visibility they need to continue to attract recruits.
With restrictions on recruiting and scholarship reductions on the way, that would be a huge step for the Gaels in maintaining their status as one of college basketball's best mid-majors.