UNLV may be able to defend its national basketball championship after all.
The NCAA's Infractions Committee on Tuesday agreed to reconsider its July decision banning UNLV from postseason play, setting an Oct. 28 special meeting in Chicago to rehear the case.UNLV officials called the decision a "clear signal" the NCAA might move away from the postseason ban, and said they would offer the committee a list of lighter penalties to take the place of the ban.
"We've gotten a second chance," UNLV president Robert Maxson said. "We've got to make the most out of that second chance."
The decision by the Infractions Committee to meet a second time on the case came as UNLV was preparing to go to Kansas City next week to appeal the postseason ban to the NCAA Council.
The appeal was shelved, at least temporarily, and Maxson expressed optimism the university would be able to convince the committee to agree to a lighter penalty for the basketball program.
"We're very pleased. We think this is a good sign for the university," Maxson said.
The Infractions Committee in July slapped the one-year postseason ban on UNLV as the final resolution to a battle with coach Jerry Tarkanian that stretched back to the NCAA's attempt to have Tarkanian suspended from coaching for two years in 1977.
UNLV, which had been expecting no more than a slap on the wrist, protested loudly and immediately launched an appeal of the decision.
UNLV counsel Brad Booke said Tarkanian still holds a court injunction prohibiting the university from suspending him, and said that any disciplinary action involving Tarkanian will have to get his prior approval.
"Coach Tarkanian has an injunction against the school," Booke said. "If we cross over into any of those areas, we'll have to have an agreement with him."
Booke acknowledged that one of the possible proposals would be for UNLV to ask Tarkanian to step aside during postseason play. Other contingencies include limiting of recruiting or the loss of some scholarships for the basketball program.
"We'll be trying to formulate ideas for alternative penalties right up until Oct. 28," said Booke. "We've discussed virtually every idea possible."
Tarkanian did not attend Tuesday's news conference called by Maxson to announce the NCAA decision.
Booke said, though, that university officials have discussed a variety of possible sanctions with the coach, and hinted that some of the penalties may apply to Tarkanian.
"There's certain things coach Tarkanian can do that are probably permissible under his injunction," he said.
Maxson credited Booke's work on an appeal brief filed with the NCAA as the reason the Infractions Committee decided to review its original postseason ban. Maxson said he expected committee members to come up with some ideas of their own about sanctions, but expressed optimism that UNLV would be successful in overturning the ban on postseason play.
"I think the clear signal is they're willing to look at some alternatives," Maxson said. "If they weren't, they wouldn't be flying to Chicago on a Sunday to hear us."
UNLV announced immediately after the July ruling that it would appeal the ban.
Maxson at the time called the penalty "a miscarriage of justice" and said UNLV was being penalized twice for the same offense.
The postseason ban couldn't have come at a worse time for Tarkanian, whose team is returning four starters from the squad that routed Duke 103-73 for the national championship and figures to be a consensus No. 1 preseason pick.
Shortly after the ban was announced, two top UNLV recruits, Ed O'Bannon and Shon Tarver, reversed their oral commitments to the university and said they would attend school elsewhere. UNLV stars Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, though, passed up multi-million dollar contracts with the NBA to return for their senior year despite the ban.
The NCAA's decision to penalize UNLV goes back to the mid-1970s, when the organization first started investigating possible recruiting violations in the UNLV program, where Tarkanian became head coach in 1973.
UNLV was hit with a two-year probation in 1977 and the NCAA - in an unprecedented ruling - ordered the university to suspend Tarkanian from coaching for a similar period.
UNLV served the probation, but Tarkanian won a state court injunction banning the university from suspending him. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the NCAA could discipline member institutions but left Tarkanian's injunction intact.
UNLV's problems do not stop with the current case, however. The NCAA is expected to give the university a list of alleged violations by the end of the year stemming from the 1987 recruitment of New York City prep star Lloyd Daniels.