Fast Times at UTA

Ryan Amacher says he's leading the University of Texas at Arlington into a glorious future. But his critics fear his passion for pomp and party will run it into the ground.

Shortly after that meeting, the short list was scrapped and Skelton was hired.

Amacher gave Skelton a starting salary of $87,500 a year--almost $25,000 more than the previous athletic director, who left in 1987, made. This year, Amacher gave Skelton a $4,500 merit raise. Skelton also received a $230-a-month membership in Shady Valley Golf Club.

B.J. Skelton arrived at UTA with a tarnished collegiate athletics history. According to NCAA reports, he was implicated in a Clemson basketball recruiting scandal. The incident started in the fall of 1989 when several tipsters contacted the NCAA to report that the transcripts of a basketball player at Clemson had been falsified in order to make the player appear to qualify to play under NCAA guidelines.

Amacher says he worked closely with Skelton during his tenure at Clemson and knew about the NCAA investigation. He says Karin McCallum phoned the NCAA and was told there was no reason UTA should not hire Skelton. McCallum did not return repeated calls from the Observer. "It was a sin of omission more than anything else," Amacher says. "As dean of admissions, he took responsibility for what happened after the fact, as he would be expected to do."

But the NCAA report on Clemson's violations says Skelton knew that the basketball player's high school transcript was fraudulent for more than a year. The report also says Skelton received a true copy of the transcript and filed it away without notifying the NCAA. Skelton continued to play the athlete even though he knew he did not qualify under NCAA rules and also did not qualify for a scholarship.

As vice provost and dean of admissions and registration, Skelton oversaw financial aid and was responsible for monitoring the eligibility of student athletes. According to the NCAA report, Skelton made insufficient effort to determine a specific athlete's eligibility for financial aid and admission, even though Skelton and other administrators had seen two separate transcripts for the athlete that contained conflicting information concerning grades.

The administrators also averaged in several remedial courses to improve the athlete's grade point average, even though that was illegal.

The NCAA reported: "On November 29, 1989, the NCAA enforcement staff informed (Skelton) of information indicating that the student-athlete may have gained admission and eligibility at the university improperly through the use of a fraudulent high school transcript and college admissions test score."

The report says that in December, Skelton "assumed responsibility to review and handle the matter," and withheld the athlete from competition. However, a few days later, Skelton called the NCAA and told a representative that he was satisfied with the authenticity of the transcripts and "the possibility of fraud was not an issue."

In January 1990, the athlete's high school forwarded a corrected transcript to Skelton, "Although the transcript was significantly different...including a change in the overall [grade average] from 2.180 to 1.940, the second transcript was ignored and simply filed with no further consideration given to it....The transcript on file at the institution [Clemson] appeared to have been manufactured simply to meet NCAA eligibility requirements and has not been found anywhere except at Clemson University."

By 1992 when the NCAA had completed its investigation, it found "major violations in men's basketball. The violation....(is) particularly serious because it involved the improper conduct of those involved in the certification of student-athletes' eligibility."

For the numerous NCAA violations, the basketball team was forced to forfeit all games it won during 1990 NCAA division I Men's Basketball championship and had to return all its team awards. The team also had to repay $353,361--half of all the money it made during the 1990 year. The assistant men's coach was asked to resign by the NCAA, its financial aid and recruiting abilities were severely curtailed, and it was put on probation for two years. Other violations cited by the NCAA against members of the athletic department included providing improper transportation to an athlete, offering a prospective athlete's family benefits, providing prospective athletes gifts, and unethical conduct by an assistant men's basketball coach.

Skelton, who had served as the NCAA council's faculty representative at Clemson for five years and had held other NCAA committee posts including chairing the certification committee, voluntarily withdrew from his nomination as NCAA council president after the scandal.

Skelton says the NCAA report on the Clemson violations is misleading and that he reported the information he had received that the athlete's transcripts might be fraudulent to Bill Hunt, director of NCAA Legislative Services, who left the NCAA in the middle of the investigation.

"They never talked to Bill Hunt about the letter. I asked them to, but they never did," Skelton says. But Skelton says Hunt told him "to go ahead and play (the athlete)," and he did. But according to the NCAA report, Skelton's letter to Hunt left out crucial information including the fact Clemson's own investigation into the matter, which Skelton spearheaded, had already determined that some of the athlete's grades had been falsified. The report also says Skelton knew at the time he wrote the letter to Hunt that some of the athlete's courses had been fabricated.

Amacher says he does not recall if he read the official NCAA report, but "talked at length" with Skelton about the issue and was assured that Skelton had done nothing wrong and that the new athletic director would guard against NCAA violations at UTA. "I have absolute faith in him," Amacher says.

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