The head of Texas-El Paso's booster organization says it's ridiculous to believe basketball players are given illegal inducements such as cars and money.
But that's what two former UTEP basketball players - both of whom left the team for unspecified reasons - and former player and assistant coach Nate "Tiny" Archibald told Newsday, a New York news-paper.UTEP's athletic director and head basketball coach denied the allegations Monday.
"We haven't been blessed with a lot of blue-chip high-school seniors that everyone's been after," Artie Dolt, executive director of the El Dorados booster organization, said Monday. "We're not in a bidding war with the Kentuckys and Louisvilles and other big programs."
Although UTEP isn't on the same basketball level as Kentucky or Louisville, it has made it to the NCAA tournament six years in a row, and has one national championship banner hanging from the ceiling of its basketball arena.
UTEP fans are basketball-mad, and former players Sean Harris and Jerry Jones told Newsday some boosters are willing to go too far. They said assistant coaches introduced them to "sugar families," or "shoogs," who gave them money and lent them cars.
Archibald, an assistant coach in 1986-87, said that after he left the UTEP program, players confided in him "what they were getting, what they should have been getting" from sugar families.
Harris, a Harlem native who left UTEP after the 1988 season and now attends St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, N.Y., told Newsday he benefited little from the sugar family system.
"They gave me a family that really didn't have as much money as (some of the others)," Harris told Newsday in an article published Sunday. "The other guys on the team, their shoogs were loaded. Some of the guys drive around in cars from the shoogs that they borrow." Some got money, he said.
Harris was not redshirted, but played little at UTEP last season. UTEP officials would not comment Monday on whether he left because he had little playing time or whether it had anything to do with a Fort Bliss bar fight he was investigated for. No charges were filed as a result of the altercation.
Another former Miner player, Jerry Jones, told Newsday he had "sugar families" each of three seasons he attended UTEP.
"My first year there, I had a good sponsor, but something happened," he said. "One of the guys messed up their (a family's) car, and they didn't want anything more to do with it."
Jones, who now plays at Southern Illinois, declined to name the player or family.
Haskins and Athletic Director Brad Hovious said in prepared statements Monday that the former players apparently were referring to the university's Host Family Program, designed to make out-of-town students feel at home. The program is supposed to be for athletes and non-athletes.
Hovious said the Host Family Program operates within NCAA rules, and that an internal investigation "satisfies me that none of our players have been given cars."
Hovious, who was not available for further comment, did not indicate when the investigation into car use took place.
Haskins said: "I know of no boosters who have provided cash or cars to our players. I am well aware that people have had our players in their homes for meals. I have told them personally, and in a letter, that they can feed our student-athletes all they want but in no way can they give them gifts of any sort."
David Berst, assistant executive director for enforcement for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, said he could not comment on whether UTEP is being investigated or whether an investigation is planned.