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John Gilbert: U doesn't need another round of violation rotation

As Minnesotans, we would like to think that the University of Minnesota is innocent of the latest NCAA transgression connected with the Gophers, this time with the hockey program, in what seems to be a curious rule-bending rotation among hockey, ...

As Minnesotans, we would like to think that the University of Minnesota is innocent of the latest NCAA transgression connected with the Gophers, this time with the hockey program, in what seems to be a curious rule-bending rotation among hockey, basketball and football, with an occasional burst of something like wrestling.
We all trust Don Lucia, once an Iron Ranger, with his stewardship of the Gophers hockey program, even if Donnie has seemed to change in his two-plus seasons at the helm. Donnie is nothing if not thorough, and he reads -- or has agents who read and report to him -- stories even about high school football in the Budgeteer News. A guy can't let his guard down. But sometimes it doesn't even work to keep your guard up, apparently.
Here's a university with a pretty horrible record of violations in recent years, starting with some hockey problems that may not have directly affected the tenure of Doug Woog as coach but certainly led to the unraveling of the once-proud program. The Clem Haskins basketball mess followed, two years ago, and some football problems with off-field discipline, or the lack of it, followed that.
University damage control must be about exhausted from constant deployment. Last fall, a couple football players were charged with assaulting a coed, and the players involved were accused of contacting the woman student to do some writing and typing of papers for one of the players. Remember, this is a university still shaken by the widespread evidence of basketball players having classwork illegally completed for them. Does the term "bad timing" come to mind?
Dan Monson seems to have the basketball thing squared away, although some wondered about ethics when Monson continued to recruit Duluth East star Rick Rickert after Rickert had announced he had committed to Arizona. At least Monson was up front about it, announcing he intended to ignore the commitment and continue recruiting Rickert -- which is legal, if questionable. Monson won out, and we're all going to enjoy watching Rickert up close and personal on regional television the next four years.
When Greenway of Coleraine hockey star Gino Guyer committed to Minnesota a month or so ago, the topic came up on sports-talk radio, with the suggestion that if other WCHA schools copied Minnesota's basketball policy, UMD and North Dakota would keep after Guyer, who hasn't yet signed a tender. It was quickly pointed out that WCHA coaches generally have a hands-off policy, of recruiting hard, but honoring a prospect's decision when he committed verbally to another school.
Guyer was one of the top recruits in the nation. Another is Zach Parise, son of former North Star J.P. Parise, who now directs the Shattuck hockey program in Faribault, a high-profile program that operates outside the high school league and plays top competition from all over the continent. Zach plays for Shattuck. Right after the Gophers beat North Dakota 7-5 in the Hall of Fame game that opened the new Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, Zach Parise, who attended the game, committed to Dean Blais that he would go to North Dakota.
Shattuck had a game last week on Tuesday, which would be attended by a number of pro scouts. On Monday, Lou Nanne and Glen Sonmor made a trip to Faribault. Nanne is a former Gopher All-American who went on to play for the North Stars and later became their general manager, and he's never lost his passion for supporting the Gophers. Sonmor was coach of the Gophers before Herb Brooks, and later coached the Fighting Saints and North Stars. He is now a scout for the Minnesota Wild and a color commentator for the Gophers, where he always issues a disclaimer for being a Gopher "homer."
Nanne and Sonmor talked to Zach Parise on the trip, and may have tried to convince him to change his mind, renege on his commitment to North Dakota and go to Minnesota instead. Nanne insists it was an innocent trip, because of his long-standing friendship with J.P. Parise, his former teammate, and that talking to Parise's son was entirely normal. However, Sonmor was quoted on U.S. College Hockey Online saying pointedly that his purpose for the trip was to try to convince Zach Parise to switch to the Gophers.
The problem, of course, is that NCAA rules strictly and clearly prohibit any boosters or alumni from contacting any prospect on behalf of the university. Obviously, Sonmor was unaware of the rule, or he would never have said what he was quoted saying. Louie, meanwhile, has publicly insisted he didn't do anything out of line, even though that stance seems to be at odds with his fellow-traveler.
Lucia self-reported the violation to the university's NCAA compliance officer, which is a good start in trying to get leniency from discipline and/or sanctions. He reportedly said that he heard that the Louie and Glen duo was headed for Faribault, so he called them to ask them not to go.
Did J.P. actually call Louie to come to Faribault, a day before the big game? Does J.P. harbor some feelings that maybe his son should reconsider his choice? (Friends of J.P. say he fully supports his son's choice of North Dakota, and who wouldn't?) Did Louie hook up with Glen just to have a traveling companion for the long, one-hour ride to Faribault? When -- and how -- did Lucia find out that the Nanne/Sonmor duo was going to visit a recruit that had committed somewhere else? Does this indicate a potential end to the once-honorable stand of WCHA coaches shutting down recruiting when a prospect announces his selection?
We all still trust Donnie Lucia to run the good ship Gopher on an even-keel to respectability, even in the face of such questions, which, fairly or unfairly, are consuming hockey fans all over the state. We should assume there won't be any serious sanctions levied by the NCAA at the Gopher program, even though the University of Minnesota's curiously repetitive activity in all sports must have established a great deal of familiarity with the NCAA's investigative branch in recent years.
The NCAA never did investigate allegations about the previous hockey regime, and that's good. Gopher hockey doesn't need another black eye, especially one inflicted by big-name alums. And if there were serious repercussions, the ultimate irony would be if, before the fall signing period, Gino Guyer pulled a Rick Rickert and decided to go to North Dakota instead, where he could play with Zach Parise.
John Gilbert is a sports writer for the Murphy McGinnis Media. He can be reached by e-mail at john.gilbert@mx3.com .

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