Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Passing Game "Friendly faculty" looked the other way while Minnesota basketball players turned in 400 papers allegedly written for them by a university staffer

As a good-natured Minnesotan might put it, the fit hit the shan
on March 10. In that day's St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jan
Gangelhoff, a former office manager in the Minnesota athletic
department's academic counseling unit who also tutored
basketball players, was quoted as saying that with the knowledge
and support of men's coach Clem Haskins she had written some 400
papers, take-home tests and other assignments for 20 Gophers
players from 1993 to '98. The papers, on topics ranging from
premenstrual syndrome to acid rain, had earned grades as high as
A+ and were still stored on the hard drive of Gangelhoff's

The story broke the day before Minnesota's first-round NCAA
tournament game against Gonzaga. University president Mark Yudof
vowed to investigate the matter fully, and school officials
declared four players implicated by the Pioneer Press story
ineligible for the game. Hours later the Gophers lost 75-63.

In the three months since then, Minnesota and the NCAA have been
looking into Gangelhoff's allegations. But amid the growing
rumors that Haskins will be fired when the university and NCAA
probes conclude this summer and a freshet of new allegations of
academic improprieties involving Gophers players, one issue has
gone largely unexamined: the role that the school's faculty
played in the alleged fraud. "Jan Gangelhoff may have written
400 papers, but she couldn't have done all this by herself,"
Elayne Donahue, director of Minnesota's academic counseling unit
for athletics from 1983 to '98, told SI. "There had to be
faculty willing to accept those papers and not question how a
poor student had suddenly mastered the art of writing. Without
them, this situation would never have gotten so out of hand."

Indeed, the scandal at Minnesota--and others like it in the last
two decades that have struck schools from UNLV to Georgia--could
not have happened if every professor and instructor were
vigilant in challenging suspicious classwork and resistant to
the blandishments of coaches. By Gangelhoff's estimate at least
65 Minnesota professors should have recognized that academic
fraud was being perpetrated by the players she aided. "What Jan
did was wrong," says Donahue. "It cheated the athletes. But
accepting [fraudulent] papers and not questioning them is just
as wrong." (It should be noted that some professors who received
papers that Gangelhoff claims to have written may have used
blind grading or had teaching assistants evaluate the papers.)

Many academic counselors who work with athletes are all too
familiar with professors who help out athletic departments. "I
call them 'friendly faculty,' and in my opinion, 75 percent of
student-athletes at big-time schools are nurtured by them," says
Lynn Lashbrook, former president of the National Association of
Academic Advisors of Athletics and onetime head of academic
counseling for athletes at Missouri. "Every school has them, and
every athletic department knows who they are."

Friendly faculty sometime receive free game tickets or the
chance to fly to a game or tournament at a team's expense. "No
one can say that giving tickets or trips to faculty is a good
thing," says Bill Flanigan, a Minnesota political science
professor and the former chairman of the school's committee on
athletics, "but if there are faculty who are willing to do
things for athletes, you don't have to corrupt them, you just
have to find them."

Minnesota hasn't been eager to see its professors drawn into the
scandal. Many faculty members contacted by SI said they could
not comment on Gangelhoff's allegations because of a
university-imposed gag order. (A school spokesman told SI there
was no gag order but acknowledged that the university had
E-mailed professors telling them to refer all interview requests
to the school's p.r. office.) Athletic director Mark Dienhart
has explained away the alleged cheating with what he calls a
single-assassin theory--that Gangelhoff was a rogue tutor who
worked in concert with no one. Haskins, having disavowed
knowledge of Gangelhoff's ghostwriting and denied all
allegations involving him, including Gangelhoff's claim that he
approved a $3,000 payment to her for her efforts, has refused to
comment further.

But the scandal won't go away. Four players admitted that
Gangelhoff did schoolwork for them (one later recanted); one of
the four, former Gophers guard Russ Archambault, told the
Pioneer Press, "The coaches knew. Everybody knew.... I would go
over [to Gangelhoff's house] some nights and get four papers
done. The coaches would be laughing about it." A former academic
counselor, Rick Marsden, as well as Gangelhoff and her sister
Jeanne Payer now say that Haskins and his staff asked them to
write papers, and former tutor Alexandra Goulding says that at
the request of a member of the basketball staff (not Haskins)
she wrote one paper for a player. Former academic counselor
Melissa Burns says the reason she resigned in 1989--three years
into Haskins's tenure at Minnesota--was her suspicion that
basketball players were being given improper academic help.
Several faculty members and former academic counselors told SI
that Haskins has a reputation for trying to persuade professors
to give favorable grades to his players.

Establishing what a professor did--or did not do--to help a
player isn't easy. Consider the case of John Taborn, an
African-American studies professor at Minnesota for some 25
years. He has had a number of basketball players in his courses,
and he accepted without question some of the papers Gangelhoff
says she ghostwrote. In the summer of 1996, according to the
Pioneer Press, Taborn designed a four-credit independent-study
course for star guard Bobby Jackson in which the only assignment
was to type the word basketball into a database and list the
articles that appeared. Gangelhoff told the newspaper (and SI)
that Jackson didn't even do this less-than-taxing exercise--she
did--yet he received an A. (Jackson, now with the Minnesota
Timberwolves, denies having received improper help in the course.)

Taborn told SI that while he had indeed overseen an independent
study course taken by Jackson, he couldn't remember exactly what
the assignment was. "He would have had to turn in a lengthy
paper at the minimum," said Taborn, who added that the Pioneer
Press's description of the independent study was "completely
absurd. I would never do something like that." Taborn also told
SI he saw nothing improper in his having accepted free game
tickets from the men's basketball office on a couple of
occasions. "I was just there [at games] supporting my students,"
he said. "It was no big deal where the tickets came from."

Even if Taborn didn't suspect that any of the papers turned in
by Haskins's players had been written by others, it strains
credulity to suggest that no one else on Minnesota's faculty
raised an eyebrow at players' uncharacteristically gemlike work.
Even though Gangelhoff says Haskins told her to "dummy down" the
papers she prepared, she wrote many at a highly sophisticated
level, often on arcane topics that were of interest to her
(Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and American Indians and Should Hawaii's
Endangered Birds Be Saved? were the titles of two papers), not
the players. A number of her papers were written for players
enrolled in General College, Minnesota's remedial division. Some
of the papers were recycled through the same class taught by the
same professor in previous years.

Given the realities of campus politics and the power that
department heads, deans and other higher-ups have to make even a
tenured professor's life unpleasant, a faculty member wouldn't
have to be in the athletic department's pocket to decide to look
the other way upon encountering a player who was cheating. As
one professor told SI in explaining his reluctance to raise a
red flag over a suspect paper, "Who wants to be the guy who
costs us the star basketball player?" Adds Lashbrook, "If you're
viewed as somebody against athletics, it could affect your
career climb on that campus and even your job placement
somewhere else because athletics is so powerful. The only
successful whistleblowers in college sports are the referees."
So much for ivory-tower idealism.

Professors often feel pressure not to dampen the emotional and
financial support for the university generated by a successful
team such as Haskins's, which has not only won 59% of its games
and gone to the NCAA tournament six times over the last 13
seasons but has also put millions of dollars into athletic
department coffers. Ponder for a moment the remarkable lack of
outrage in Minnesota over Gangelhoff's allegations. Governor
Jesse Ventura set the tone, calling the Pioneer Press stories
sensationalistic and offering a simple suggestion for
eliminating future academic scandals: "Why not let kids go to
college and just be athletes when they're there? No classes. Let
them simply play."

"It's like the Clinton-Lewinsky deal," says Allen Sack,
co-author of College Athletes for Hire and a sports management
professor at the University of New Haven (Conn.) who played on
Notre Dame's 1966 national championship football team. "The
economy's going great, so we overlook a moral problem. Same in
college sports: When your team's winning, you put your outrage
on hold."

Sander Latts did. Two years ago Latts, an English professor who
taught in the General College, had Gophers forward Courtney
James in a course called People and Problems. During the NCAA
tournament, James--who, according to Latts, usually had either
skipped the class or walked out of it midway through the
hour--approached Latts and explained that he needed to improve
his standing in the class to maintain his eligibility. Latts, a
longtime fan of Minnesota basketball, made a concession. "I
said, 'If you write a good paper, I'll count that instead of the
six papers you should have [already] written during the

A few days later, after the Gophers had won the NCAA Midwest
Regional in San Antonio to earn their first Final Four berth,
James submitted a paper on the Fair Housing Act that Latts calls
"one of the 10 best papers I've received in 40 years of
teaching." Says Latts, "I had never seen a paper turned around
that quickly, even from my graduate students." He says he talked
to James and expressed surprise that he was able to write such
an impressive paper in a hotel room during the same weekend he
participated in two of the biggest games of his college career.
According to Latts, James responded, "I stayed in my room while
everyone was out partying."

Latts says he raised his suspicions with professor Norman
Chervany, a liaison between the athletic department and the
faculty. Latts says he never heard back from Chervany--who has
traveled with Haskins's team various times in his role as
liaison--and decided not to press the issue. "I couldn't prove
it," says the 64-year-old Latts, "and I really didn't want to
put my head on the chopping block, so to speak." (Chervany told
SI that no professor has ever come to him questioning the work
of a basketball player.) While James was never confronted with
the accusations of plagiarism, that summer he was convicted of
fifth-degree assault against his girlfriend and left school.
James is the player who at first confirmed to the Pioneer Press
that Gangelhoff wrote papers for him and then recanted.

Donahue says that in 1994 she got a call from Victoria Coifman,
an assistant professor of African-American studies, who
complained that guard Townsend Orr's attendance was so shoddy
that Coifman had removed his name from class records. Donahue
was aghast when Coifman called her back a short time later.
"[She] said that she and the student had come to an 'agreement,'
and she said, 'I don't think that this needs to go any
further,'" says Donahue. "I looked at her as a friendly faculty
member to the athletic department, and I understood that by
'reaching an agreement' she meant that the athlete was going to
get another chance." Coifman says, "I don't remember [the
incident], but it could have happened."

Several athletic department staff members describe yet another
incident in which a male basketball player stole a female
athlete's paper, photocopied it, crossed out her name and handed
in the paper as his own work. The professor, having received the
same paper twice, decided that both students would receive
failing grades. The female athlete said she then got a menacing
note from the basketball player. It read, says Donahue, to whom
the young woman read the note, "If you tell anybody, me and my
buddies are going to beat the s--- out of you." Frightened but
armed with her research notes, she confronted the professor and
received a passing grade. Still, neither she nor the professor
made any formal complaint against the basketball player.

According to SI's sources, Haskins has helped create a climate
in which professors are reluctant to step forward. In 1994 he
showed his clout with academic administrators by gaining
approval for a change that, in effect, removed men's basketball
from the jurisdiction of the university's academic-support
system and essentially put Haskins in charge of his players'
tutors. Only in '97, with Minnesota up for NCAA accreditation
review and Haskins's players consistently turning in the worst
grade point average of any Gophers team--as low as a 1.64, a
solid D, one semester, according to Donahue--were the basketball
players' tutors and academic counselors folded back into the
university system.

That Minnesota gave Haskins oversight of his players' academic
support system, however briefly, is startling given the players'
long history of wretched performance in the classroom. Since
Haskins took over the Gophers in 1986, only 23% of his players
have gotten their degrees, by far the worst rate of any Big Ten
basketball program during that period, according to a comparison
by the Pioneer Press. Yet last season's team media guide
declared, "Coach Haskins and his staff truly believe that the
primary goal of the student-athlete is to achieve academic

Haskins has worked to help his players earn better grades, but
his methods are open to question. One day in the winter term of
1992, instructor Jed Hopkins was teaching a class called
Introduction to College Writing when his assistant approached
him and said someone important was waiting for him in the
hallway. Whispered the assistant excitedly, "It's Clem Haskins!"

Hopkins, an Englishman, had never attended a college basketball
game and had little clue as to why Haskins had come to speak
with him. Haskins was in fact flouting an unwritten Minnesota
rule against coaches trying to influence their players'
professors. He had dropped by to discuss the plight of his star
shooting guard, Voshon Lenard, who was failing Hopkins's course.

Hopkins says Lenard was woefully ill-prepared for college
work--"Almost immediately I was worried about his level of
literacy," he says--and he wasn't the only faculty member to
harbor that view. A history professor told SI that when he asked
Lenard during a class why George Washington was considered a
founding father, Lenard looked up and responded, "George sounds familiar. Can you give me a hint?"
Lenard, now with the Miami Heat, says, "The professor said that?
Man, that's messed up. I can't comment any further on that."

Hopkins nevertheless assured Haskins that he would try to do a
better job of getting the clearly uninterested Lenard to
participate in the class. A few days later he was surprised to
find a thank-you note from Haskins with two tickets to a Gophers
game enclosed. "At the time I didn't think there was any quid
pro quo," says Hopkins. "My brother-in-law and I used the

After the encounter with Hopkins, Haskins approached Donahue.
The two had long feuded over Donahue's reluctance to cut players
much slack academically. According to Donahue, Haskins told her
sternly, "Lenard is flunking English. What do I do? I go over,
see the professor and talk to him. You see, he's British and
doesn't know anything about basketball. I invite him to
practice. I give him some tickets. That's how you do the job."

Though Hopkins says he ended up giving Lenard a failing grade,
Haskins's behavior suggests that other professors had been more
susceptible to his overtures. "When my bosses heard what
happened, the first question they asked was whether I accepted a
bribe from Clem Haskins," says Hopkins, who left the university
in 1993 and now works for the Minneapolis school system. "They
explained that he had a reputation for influencing assessment

Hopkins's direct supervisor at the time, Fred Amram, declined to
talk to SI, but one faculty member who was present when Hopkins
was questioned by his "bosses" confirmed Hopkins's account and
said Haskins is known for trying to influence the grading of his

A number of sources at Minnesota said that Haskins has often
injected racial politics into discussions of his players'
academic treatment. On a college campus, being accused of racism
can be tantamount to professional death, and Haskins and his
staff have seemed keenly aware of this. "Clem always throws in
race," says Donahue. "He did it almost from the get-go. 'If you
don't do this, we'll know you're racist.' That was his trump

In 1995, when Latts questioned the provenance of a paper written
by Mark Jones, a black basketball player, he mistakenly
contacted Brian Berube, who once had been an academic counselor
for basketball but had since become a counselor for football.
Berube says that he and Latts had a brief phone
conversation--Jones's name was never even mentioned--in which he
told Latts to call the current academic counselor for
basketball, Newby. Latts doesn't remember if he called Newby,
but he did pass on his concerns to the academic staff at the
General College, who in turn told Donahue. Latts subsequently
decided not to pursue the matter further. In a memo to Donahue
and others dated Aug. 2, 1995, Latts said that he was giving
Jones a C- in the course; in the margin he handwrote a note to
Donahue that concluded, "Didn't want to create a big deal."

The matter didn't end there. Gophers assistant coach Milton
Barnes, now the coach at Eastern Michigan, apparently believed
that Berube, who is white, had referred Latts to the General
College instead of to the basketball office. In an angry memo to
Berube, Barnes wrote, "I have lost total respect for you as a
man and as a person who has the best interest of young people at
heart, especially those of color." On the same matter Haskins
wrote to Donahue, "It upsets me that after being here ten years
I sense you continue to struggle with basketball players having
any academic credibility, especially the black student-athlete."

Similarly, Hopkins says that when Haskins confronted him about
Lenard's performance, the coach expressed concern that Hopkins
was "isolating" the player and "singling him out." Says Hopkins,
"It was pretty clear what the underlying implication was." Adds
a source close to the men's athletic program, "It's ironic that
Clem is so anti-Prop 48 and quick to throw around terms like
racism and racist. It seems clear that he didn't respect his
players enough to tell them to do their own work. Instead he
relied on [Gangelhoff] and on making the faculty feel guilty."

Despite Haskins's denial, Gangelhoff says that he was fully
aware of her ghostwriting--"Remember, Jan, those papers can't be
too good," she says he told her on two occasions--and
appreciated her efforts. She says that in 1998 Haskins approved
a $3,000 payment to her, and that Alonzo Newby, the team's
academic counselor, hand-delivered 30 $100 bills in a white
envelope. On a stress-related leave of absence since just after
the scandal broke, Newby declined to speak to SI, though his
lawyer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune three weeks ago that
anyone who thinks that Gangelhoff was a lone assassin "must also
believe in the tooth fairy."

As Minnesota grapples with the scandal, other schools would be
wise to start looking for the same sort of corruption--athletes
having their work done for them, friendly faculty looking the
other way--on their campuses. Lashbrook, in fact, likens
Minnesota to the beleaguered Olympic bid committee from Salt
Lake City. "They got caught doing something that's just part of
the business they're in," he says.

Gangelhoff, who left the university in 1998, says the hypocrisy
of the intercollegiate sports business compelled her not only to
write the papers but also to ultimately go public with her
story. "My first words to the [NCAA] investigators were, 'I know
what I did was wrong,'" she says. "But it was so obvious that
these kids were at risk academically, and once they got to
Minnesota, they were there to play basketball, not to graduate.
I figured if I could help them get through their classes and
become college educated, at least the players weren't being
totally used." As it turned out, of the 20 players Gangelhoff
says she helped, only one--reserve guard Ryan Wolf--earned his
degree, though Gangelhoff believes that several others are on
track to graduate.

Now persona non grata in Minnesota, the 50-year-old Gangelhoff
has returned to her no-stoplight hometown of Danbury, Wis.,
where she's a finance manager at the aptly named Hole in the
Wall Casino. She supplements her income working weekends at a
gas station-convenience mart. Danbury is only a two-hour drive
from the Twin Cities, but it's a million miles from the world of
big-time college athletics.

As she attempts to build a new life, Gangelhoff finds a sliver
of comic relief when she recalls one paper she wrote for a
player. As part of her research for the paper, which was titled
Gopher Glory, she attended a banquet celebrating 100 years of
Minnesota basketball. There she picked up this bit of trivia.
"Do you know why Minnesota decided to join the Big Ten?" she
asks, stifling a giggle. "Because the conference stood for
academic integrity."

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: LUBA LUKOVA "Friendly faculty" looked the other way while Minnesota basketball players turned in 400 papers allegedly written for them by a member of the university staff [T of C]