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Women's Basketball: Digging Deep Into Eastern Michigan's NCAA Violations

AnnMarie Gilbert's violations at Eastern Michigan may have been more than just losing track of practice hours. (Photo: Jason Miller-US PRESSWIRE)
AnnMarie Gilbert's violations at Eastern Michigan may have been more than just losing track of practice hours. (Photo: Jason Miller-US PRESSWIRE)

As many of you well know, AnnMarie Gilbert — formerly the head women's basketball coach at Eastern Michigan — resigned recently amid mention that an investigation of the NCAA violations that had been committed last season was still ongoing. Suss himself expressed surprise at this move, given a) the incredible success Gilbert has had as coach (.595 win pct.) and b) the seemingly tame nature of the violations — that the team had regularly gone over the NCAA rule of no more than four hours per day and 20 hours per week of basketball related activities (practice, film, games).

I was initially going to reference a recent espnW article titled "The Glass Wall" about how Title IX has been a boon for women's athletics everywhere but in the coaching ranks, and how reading that article made me wonder if Gilbert might ever coach again now that she has temporarily stepped away.

I still have that same wonder, and I still strongly urge you to read the article, but my focus is no longer the same — I'm now wondering if Gilbert deserves to coach again.

Being the intrepid journalist that I am, I decided to sit down and take the time to read through the full report of violations against the program as well as the university's self-imposed sanctions (presumably to lessen the blow delivered by the NCAA, which we have seen other schools have mixed results with). What I found was very interesting. What is the actual list of violations? Brace yourself:

• In the fall of 2010, the team regularly practiced more than 20 hours per week, often for 24+ hours in a given week. This also had the side effect of regularly forcing the players to have both dinner and study tables later than they were supposed to.

• The first time the compliance officers investigated impermissible coaching activity under previous director of basketball operations Ron Austin in the fall of 2009, Coach Gilbert - upon hearing that the compliance officers were "interrupting her student's study tables" to do interviews - told assistant coach Darin Thrun to meet with the team. Thrun then, according to reports and at Gilbert's request, told the players to lie in their interviewsand say that nothing inappropriate was going on with practices - because "if word got out [the coaches] could get fired" and "what happens inside the fist [the team] stays in the fist."

• Held summer workout programs that are supposed to be voluntary. Gilbert says she occasionally stopped by or talked to students outside those workouts, and asked that they mention if they would be gone more than sporadically. The players reported a much more dictatorial approach including being required to make up missed workouts. She also allowed prospects to participate in these events (which is illegal because they weren't really voluntary, unobserved-by-coaches events).

I'll tip my cap to cmadler for mentioning this when it first came out, but this is not just a "she sometimes made practices a little long, was a little too loose with her handling of recruits, and watched her players closely" situation. I was involved with the women's basketball program at my alma mater, measly little Division II Slippery Rock, and our coaches tracked practice time, interaction with recruits, and summer workouts like hawks to make sure they didn't violate rules that they were well aware of.

Gilbert's claims that she "may have occasionally popped by a summer workout with a recruit or two" and that she "didn't know that countable hours (towards that 20-hour limit) included time outside when she and her staff were actually present and coaching" is complete and utter crap. A coach with her amount of experience (17 years between Michigan State, Oberlin and EMU) knows the rules and knows when she is afoul of them.

Will Gilbert coach again? It's tough to say, given how few women coaches get rehired as well as how much stock another school places in the full depth and breadth of these violations. Guess we'll have to keep our eyes peeled to that 24+ hour news reel.