UNO coach Dean Blais, defenseman penalized for benefits violation

A father’s gift stolen from the UNO hockey locker room 14 months ago led to a series of mistakes that will cost the Mavericks’ coach and top defenseman three games.

Dean Blais and Jaycob Megna violated NCAA rules when the coach reimbursed the player $400 after Megna’s wristwatch was taken from the CenturyLink Center locker room in October 2012. They won’t be with UNO when it faces New Hampshire (Jan. 3-4) and Minnesota-Duluth (Jan. 10). The Mavs’ program won’t be subject to sanctions.

“I don’t believe that it was malicious on Dean’s part,” UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts said in an interview. “I honestly believe Dean’s an old-school coach and felt bad for the kid and was trying to help him. But it’s a violation.”

Said Blais, reached by phone Monday: “I totally support the university’s and the NCAA’s decision on my suspension.”

Blais can conduct practices and will travel with the team to New Hampshire, but he must cease all coaching activities one hour before games. He is permitted to watch the action from the arena, but can’t be on the bench — UNO assistants Troy Jutting and Alex Todd will take over head-coaching duties. Megna, by NCAA rule, won’t be allowed to travel.

“My frustration is for the player,” Alberts said. “Here’s a kid that has done everything right. He’s an amazing student. He’s from a great family. … Now he’s paying a price frankly for some university mistakes.”

Megna, whose older brother, Jayson, is a former Mav and current member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, received the watch from his dad after earning a UNO scholarship.

During a game against Bemidji State in Megna’s sophomore season, an unidentified person broke into the Mavs’ dressing room through an unlocked equipment room door. Megna filed a report with the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. Teammate Aaron Pearce also reported $100 missing.

Megna never saw the watch again. The next week, compliance intern Sam Spomer asked his director, who has since left the department, if UNO could reimburse Megna. The NCAA has waivers for incidents like the watch theft. But UNO, which is going through a rigorous campus-wide transition to Division I, interpreted the rules incorrectly. The compliance director said no.

“That was the wrong answer,” Alberts said. “We could’ve reimbursed him through the NCAA if we had just filled out a few forms.”

Over the next few months, the hockey coaches and the compliance officers miscommunicated. Megna believed UNO couldn’t reimburse him because the budget was too tight.

In April, he purchased a new watch for $400.

Blais learned of the purchase and paid Megna $400 cash from his pocket. Blais didn’t do it secretly, Alberts said. It happened in the weight room during a team workout. Regardless, “that’s an impermissible benefit,” Alberts said. “Dean’s been a head coach a long time and should’ve known.”

Fast forward to Dec. 4 and a monthly compliance education seminar. Coaches received a three-page “bylaw bulletin.”

On page two, a recent violation report detailed how Alabama football player Ha Ha Clinton-Dix accepted $500 from a strength and conditioning coach after his car had been robbed. Clinton-Dix was suspended two games.

Blais, en route to Colorado College a few days later, studied the newsletter and realized he’d broken an NCAA rule. When the team returned to Omaha, Blais reported his mistake. UNO called the NCAA on Dec. 11.

Because the impermissible benefit was $400 or less, NCAA rules dictate that Megna sit out 10 percent of the schedule — three games. As part of UNO’s reinstatement request, Megna donated $400 to charity.

Ironically, Megna was reimbursed by UNO after the department went through the proper waiver channels. UNO will also seek reimbursement for Pearce’s $100.

Blais would’ve been suspended for one game by the NCAA. But Alberts determined his punishment should match Megna’s.

“I told Dean, I can’t look myself in the mirror watching a kid sit three games and the coach — who’s the adult and who gave it to him — sits one. He didn’t disagree.”

Alberts says there’s much to learn from the incident. First, UNO has made changes to improve locker-room security; during Mike Kemp’s coaching career, his teams were occasionally victimized by theft, too.

Bigger picture, Alberts said, it underscores the importance of rules compliance as the Mavs continue their Division I transition.“It’s a great lesson for us,” Alberts said. “We’ve got more work to do.”

This article was selected for educational purposes only.


Daily Compliance Item 1/8/14- Voluntarily Quit

Yellow Card, men’s soccer student-athlete at Ocean State University (OSU), voluntarily quit the team at the conclusion of the fall 2013 semester.   OSU has not yet begun its spring 2014 semester.  Is OSU permitted to cancel Yellow’s athletic scholarship and provide it to another student-athlete on the team during the spring 2014 semester?

Yes.  NCAA Bylaw states that institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability may be reduced or canceled during the period of the award if the recipient: (Revised: 1/10/92, 1/11/94, 1/10/95, 1/9/96, 12/13/05, 9/11/07)

(a) Renders himself or herself ineligible for intercollegiate competition;

(b) Fraudulently misrepresents any information on an application, letter of intent or financial aid agreement (see Bylaw;

(c) Engages in serious misconduct warranting substantial disciplinary penalty (see Bylaw; or

(d) Voluntarily (on his or her own initiative) withdraws from a sport at any time for personal reasons; however, the recipient’s financial aid may not be awarded to another student-athlete in the academic term in which the aid was reduced or canceled.  A student-athlete’s request for written permission to contact another four-year collegiate institution regarding a possible transfer does not constitute a voluntary withdrawal.

Daily Compliance Item- 1/7/14- Canceled Competition

Ocean State University women’s basketball team was scheduled to play Bay State College last night.  Due to inclement weather, the game was canceled an hour before tipoff.  As long as the student-athletes did not participate in any countable athletically related activities, can the team use that day as its required day off?

Yes.  NCAA Bylaw states that when an institution’s competition is canceled prior to the start of competition or canceled prior to the competition being considered a completed event in accordance with the playing rules of that sport, an institution may use that day as its required day off, provided the institution does not engage in any further countable athletically related activities during that day. (Adopted: 1/16/93)

Daily Compliance Item- 1/6/14- part-time enrollment

The women’s soccer coaches at Ocean State University (OSU) are hosting a few recruits next weekend.  One of the current student-athletes that would like to serve as a student host is a senior who is enrolled part-time and will graduate in the summer.  Is it permissible for OSU to provide expenses to this student-athlete to serve as a student host:?

Yes.  NCAA Staff Interpretation- 3/25/13- Part-Time Student Serving as Student Host (I)- states that a student must be enrolled in a minimum full-time program of studies at the institution at the time he or she participates as a student host unless the student meets an exception to or is granted a waiver of the full-time enrollment requirements for competition.

[References: NCAA Bylaws (student host); (exception – final semester/quarter); (exceptions); (waivers), and staff interpretation (12/20/89, Item No. f), which has been archived]

This legislation is applicable to Divisions I, II and III.

Daily Compliance Item- 1/3/14- Current Event

Motivation or devastation? What’s it really like for players when college coaches leave

As soon as the NCAA football regular season ends, a regular tradition occurs: Coaches will in what seems like a whirlwind process announce they are going to another school, leaving behind the student-athletes they recruited and coached for years. The press conferences are tear-filled and the quotes from the team are usually the same message of shock and resolution to carry on. But what’s really went on inside the locker room during some of the biggest surprise coaching exits? For the Win caught up with three former players to ask them about their experience for this week’s edition of Throwback Thursday.

When Nick Saban left Michigan State

In 1999: At the time of Saban’s almost overnight exit from Michigan State to go to LSU, he told reporters that the hardest part for him was leaving the players. “I like college football because when I talked to my team today, the effect that you have on some of the players, their lives, means something,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

The players told the Associated Press that they believed it was a tough decision for their coach and seemed mostly disappointed. Sophomore linebacker Josh Thornhill said: “It’s disappointing. I would have rather had a coach stick around for all four years.” Added defensive back DeMario Suggs: “I’d be sorry to see him go, but it’s his decision. Whatever is best for him and his family.”

Now: Gari Scott, one of the Spartans team captains at the time, said he remembered coming back from holiday break to a team meeting. “We were like what’s this meeting about? Coach Saban wasn’t in the meeting and we learned he took a job at LSU and so we were all in shock. We were coming off of a great season and getting ready to play Florida in the bowl game and without a coach, we didn’t know what to think of it.” The most shocking part for Scott, he said, was as a captain who had a relatively close relationship with Saban, he thought he would have been given a heads up. “I remember [Plaxico Burress] and I, we looked at each other in silence. Like are you kidding me? I just remember that it was right before our bowl game — that’s what was surprising. We were all in shock at the meeting.”

The bowl game, he said, was incredibly different without Saban, who treated bowl games as business trips. “For that bowl game, it was a good time,” he said.

The two have not spoken since Saban went to Louisiana, but as is a theme for the former players who spoke with For The Win, Scott said he understands more why he decided to jump ship. “As an older man I got a different approach to it — I understand the business of it now. But as a younger man and a player he recruited it was a little surprising at the time.”

When Rich Rodriguez left West Virginia

In 2007: When Rodriguez spoke with players, according to ESPN, he was incredibly emotional and told them that he had been approached numerous times by other schools but “this time” chose to listen. “The players are upset because he said he’s going to leave before the bowl game,” James Dykes, the father of West Virginia defensive tackle Keilen Dykes told ESPN’s Joe Schad. “At least coach them in the bowl game. James just called to tell us and I know he is very upset about this.” Added Keilen Dykes: “We’re all hurting right now, but we can’t cry.”

Now: Dorrell Jalloh remembers in the days leading to Rodriguez’s departure getting questions from reporters about rumors that he was leaving, but the team was mostly dismissive of them. “No one believed it considering he turned down the Alabama job before Nick Saban took it. So we figured if he turned down Alabama, he’s definitely not going to go to Michigan,” he said.

But then, the players were called into a meeting and saw dozens of reporters outside and were told the news. “It was tough for most people because Coach Rodriguez went to a lot of people’s houses and spoke to a lot of people’s mothers and fathers and said ‘I’m going to take care of your son and make sure he gets a good education,’” he said.

The team tried to quickly move on and get ready for an upcoming bowl game. “Senior leadership stuck up and said ‘Hey it’s going to be OK, we’re going to help you guys,’” he said. For Jalloh, it took a bit to sink in, especially as they headed out for an hour-long practice. “The first thing I said was this is not real, it’s kind of like that dream, this is not real. But once he walked out of the room, we still had to go to practice. It was like what we still have to practice? But sure enough the show must go on … ”

Jalloh said while he had trouble understanding the decision at the time, it seems like clearly the right one to make now. “(If I) have the opportunity to go to Michigan and they’re going to pay me large amounts of money, why would you not take that opportunity to secure that for the rest of my life?” he said. “Financially you set yourself up for the future so your kids kids can be financially stable for the future.”

When Mack Brown left North Carolina

In 1997: After 10 years in Chapel Hill, Brown’s decision to leave came perhaps even as a shock to him. “We’ve had a good run. We’ve had a good stay,” Brown told reporters, according to the Associated Press at the time. “There’s not any reason for me to leave here. I think it’s the challenge of starting over. … I never thought I’d leave here.” He added: “The hardest thing is to leave the kids. I do love those kids. You probably spend more time with the football players than your own family.”

Those kids, according to reports from the time, were also shocked. “It’s going to be real bad for them. I pray they don’t go out and do nothing crazy,” senior defensive end Greg Ellis said of the underclassmen, according to the AP. … “Some players in (the meeting) looked really hurt. I was really hurt. I can’t possibly hurt like those other guys are hurting. Now, it’s like, ‘What do I do?”‘Now: Brown, according to Na’ Brown, denied he was going anywhere as recently as the day before he signed the deal with Texas despite people in town constantly asking players about the rumors he was leaving. “We had practice, I don’t remember what day it was, he was in front of us saying ‘don’t worry about it, I’m not going anywhere and the next day they cancelled practice,” he said. “He probably had a lot going on in his head at the time.”

Brown said most players couldn’t imagine the Tar Heels without him.

“Mack was a guy who recruited me,” he remembered. “He got me to come there. I believed in everything he was saying. He was a really good guy. He was more of a father figure to all of us so when he left it hurt — it really hurt. We never expected it to happen — we were told he’s going to be there forever … and then he actually leaves.”

Brown remembers it taking hours for the news to sink in. As the team was trying to shake off the shock and prepare for the upcoming bowl game, many guys talked about transferring to Texas, Brown said. “But then again we came to the school for a reason we love the school so (we said) let’s just make a most of it.”

The two did stay in touch a bit. When Brown was drafted to the NFL in 1999 the first congratulatory call he received from was Mack Brown. “It’s a decision he had to make for him and his family,” he said. “When you’re a kid when you’re 18, 19, 20 you’re not looking at it that way.”

This article was selected for educational purposes only.