MINNESOTA–Gov. Jesse Ventura in mid-March sharply criticized the St. Paul Pioneer Press for its timing in publishing a story about academic fraud by several University of Minnesota basketball players one day before the team was to play in the first round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
University officials declared four players ineligible after the Pioneer Press reported that a former university employee had written papers and done other coursework for 20 of the university’s Golden Gophers basketball players, including the four current team members.
In an interview with KTCA-TV of St. Paul shortly after the ineligibilities were announced, the governor said “I think it’s despicable in the fact that they would release a story like this that apparently has been going on for, what — a year?” He said the story is just another example of “Pioneer Press sensational journalism.”
Ventura did not comment in the interview on the substance of the story or whether the charges were true. However, University officials in a press conference the next morning said they had declared the players ineligible because “prima facie” evidence indicated at least some of the allegations were true.
Ventura said the newspaper published the story “so that they could take the pleasure of these young people … and somehow try to spoil it for them.” He said he was not surprised.
Pioneer Press editor Walter Lundy told the Associated Press that the newspaper would have been criticized if it had held the story. “If we held the story, we would have been guilty of what it was they were accusing us of, timing the story. We’re going to be accused either way,” he said.
The newspaper received disks of some of the work the employee said she had completed for the players only shortly before the tournament, and the university did not respond to questions until the day before the article appeared, he said.
After Minnesota narrowly lost its first round game to Gonzaga and was eliminated from the tournament, the newspaper lost 197 subscriptions and was besieged with angry telephone calls and e-mail messages, Lundy said.