Wisconsin Investigates Allegations
MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Allegations of special treatment for University of Wisconsin athletes at a shoe store that are now being investigated by the school first came to UW’s attention last year, a school official says.
The Wisconsin State Journal said Sunday that Badger athletes have gotten substantial unadvertised discounts at The Shoe Box in Black Earth since at least the mid-1990s and received special credit arrangements.
The newspaper said its two-month investigation determined those who received discounts include 14 members of the Badgers’ Rose Bowl-winning team, including Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, and eight members of its NCAA Final Four basketball team.
Tim Bald, UW’s director of NCAA compliance, said he made an unannounced visit to the shoe store Nov. 5 in response to persistent rumors about discounts and met with owner Steve Schmitt.
``He said he likes to help out our kids, like he does any students,″ Bald said. ``That’s when I said, `If you think you’re helping out, it’s going to have the exact opposite effect.′ ″
But Bald, who said he had no hard evidence, said he did not ask Schmitt directly if he was giving discounts to UW athletes.
Bald said he gave Schmitt a copy of the NCAA’s rule on the matter and explained what was permissible.
Schmitt said he could recall few details from the visit and said he was unsure whether Bald left him with any materials.
Melany Newby, UW vice chancellor for legal and executive affairs, and athletic director Pat Richter said they saw no problem with the way UW handled the situation. The normal procedure for contacting someone when allegations arise is to make a phone call, Newby said.
``We’re always concerned when any possible violation of rules occurs,″ Richter said. ``It appears that may have been the case here.″
``It would appear there is information there that ought to be of concern to the university,″ added NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro when asked about the newspaper report.
Under NCAA rules, ``receipt of a benefit by student-athletes or their relatives or friends is not a violation of NCAA legislation if it is demonstrated that the same benefit is generally available to the institution’s students or their relatives or friends or to a particular segment of the student body determined on a basis unrelated to athletics ability.″
Schmitt called the rule violation allegations ``stupidly false.″
``There’s absolutely nothing to it,″ he said.
``We have 7,000 to 10,000 pairs of shoes on sale for half price. Everybody gets discounts here, everything is reduced.″
Schmitt is in the habit of knocking off prices for UW athletes, regular customers, or any other student or patron he has come to know, according to his daughters Emily Schlick and Jill Schmitt-Adler, who work at the store.
Schmitt ``knocks off about 40 percent on each player on average, maybe,″ Schlick said.
Other UW students generally pay list price or get a discount if they ask for one or present a coupon, the women said.
Schmitt said he made special credit arrangements, including letting unpaid bills slide, because he trusts the players to pay them.
The State Journal reported graduate student Andy Taber said he got a 38 percent discount on a pair of shoes at the store recently after the cashier asked if he was a UW student. But UW student John Martinelli said he did not receive any discounts there.
Dayne did not respond to messages left with his girlfriend, Alia Lester, and uncle, Rob Reid, concerning the report.
Men’s basketball coach Dick Bennett said he assumed discounts and credits on merchandise at the store were available to all students.
``I’m not particularly excited to hear they’ve run up bills out there that are unpaid and are sizable,″ Bennett said. ``That bothers me.″
If UW athletes are found to have violated NCAA rules, individuals players could face ineligibility and monetary punishments. Teams could be stripped of NCAA records and awards and face other sanctions if ineligible players competed in NCAA tournaments.