By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
Watkins' story remains contentious. Expected to be a difference-maker on this year's team, he was declared academically ineligible by the narrowest of margins for the start of the season. University sources say that he met the necessary grade-point requirement and was eligible to return after Dec. 12, but that the athletics department dragged its feet in seeing that his grades were posted in a timely fashion. As a result, Watkins missed four games over the December holidays, including the 8-point loss at Notre Dame that proved to be Evans' swan song.
Upon Sutton's arrival, the athletics office notified the new coaching regime that Watkins was eligible to suit up. By then, however, unknown to anyone at USF, Watkins had left the school and enrolled at a community college in Idaho, where, under NCAA rules, he could play immediately without having to sit out a year, thus ending his promising USF career.
Some within the USF athletics family are convinced that had Watkins remained on the team, the Dons' faltering win-loss record would have almost certainly gotten a boost. In any event, Evans was toast. Numerous sources say that Gore-Mann kept a "book" containing the coach's perceived shortcomings almost from the time she became athletics director, and appeared intent on getting rid of him.
If so, a little-noticed announcement in the spring of 2007. may have done its part to help things along: The basketball program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette was slapped with two years' probation by the NCAA for violations dating to Evans' tenure there.
Evans' star player had played despite being academically ineligible during most of the 2003-2004 season, which was the coach's last at the school before landing the USF job, and one in which his team won 20 games and earned a coveted NCAA tournament bid. The governing agency chastised Louisiana-Lafayette officials, saying they should have known that the player's 12 hours of "correspondence courses" didn't meet eligibility standards.
As part of the punishment, 14 of Evans' victories were wiped off the books last year, and an embarrassing asterisk was inserted into the USF basketball guide.
The current disarray within the USF athletics program goes well beyond the brouhaha over the midseason coaching switcheroo and Gore-Mann's tenure. It has its roots in an embarrassing ticket-scalping episode under her predecessor, Bill Hogan. University officials are even now unwilling to discuss it, but SF Weekly has learned that it resulted in USF being privately reprimanded by the NCAA.
The scandal grew out of USF being chosen to host the 2006 NCAA West Regional men's basketball tournament at Oracle Arena (then called Oakland Arena). As host, the university was provided an allotment of 2,000 tickets, with a face value of $130 apiece. USF turned to area universities Sonoma State and San Jose State to distribute 500 tickets each, and thus share in the tournament revenue. Such gestures are not uncommon among schools, since one or the other, which may later host the event, might be expected to reciprocate.
But the athletics department's alleged mishandling of the remaining tickets landed USF in hot water with the NCAA. Instead of distributing the tickets themselves, USF athletics officials struck an unusual deal with Neil Slater, a Chicago ticket broker and friend of Evans', which allowed Slater the privilege of purchasing 1,000 tickets at face value plus $8 each for handling.
Soon thereafter, tournament tickets began popping up on the Internet at inflated prices of between $300 and $500 apiece.
In March 2006, the Chronicle reported that USF had changed part of its ticket marketing for the tournament after officials found it to be in conflict with NCAA guidelines. At the time, then–athletics director Hogan put an innocuous spin on the situation, insisting that the tickets offered for sale on the Internet were not part of the stock Slater was allowed to acquire, although neither Hogan nor anyone else associated with the department offered evidence to support the claim. (Neither Hogan nor Slater returned phone calls from SF Weekly seeking comment.)
Slater's firm, the Real Deal Company, runs a security service that provides bodyguard protection to several NBA athletes. People acquainted with Hogan and Slater say their friendship dates back to at least the 1990s, when Evans was an assistant coach at the University of Arizona. After Evans landed at USF, Slater became a fixture at USF basketball practices and at games. Also befriending Hogan, he was a basketball "sponsor," donating tens of thousands of dollars for the new electronic scorer's table installed during Evans' second year as coach, according to both a prominent USF booster as well as a former athletics department official.
Slater's special treatment with respect to the tournament tickets — from which he conceivably stood to earn several hundred thousand dollars — didn't fly with the NCAA.
When the matter became known, NCAA officials directed USF to remedy the matter, triggering an internal investigation and an effort by the university ostensibly to track down ticket purchasers using credit card numbers to reimburse them the difference between what they paid and the scalped price.
"Here you have a Jesuit school scalping Western regional basketball tickets through one of its own sponsors," says booster Larry Blum, one of those who complained about the incident. "The whole thing was really outrageous."