MORAGA -- The next chapter in the captivating tale of Saint Mary's College, the little school in this bucolic East Bay suburb making a name for itself in college basketball, warming hearts around the bay and across the country, is a bittersweet fable.

Saint Mary's received a searing rebuke from NCAA enforcement operatives, who on Friday released a report detailing numerous recruiting violations resulting in penalties for the men's basketball program and respected coach Randy Bennett.

Since arriving in 2001 and inheriting a program so pitiful it won but two of 29 games the previous season, Bennett has turned Saint Mary's into a regional power and national presence, with four NCAA Tournament appearances and a current streak of six consecutive seasons with at least 25 victories.

And now Bennett and his accomplishments must bear the unsightly stain of this 35-page report issued by the imperious folks at the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions.

Though Saint Mary's was spared the dreaded ban from postseason play, it was severely bruised by a paddling that could have implications for the better part of the decade.

The report cites Bennett for failing to properly monitor his program and promote an atmosphere of compliance, penalizing the coach with a five-game suspension to be served at the start of the 2013-14 West Coast Conference season, as well as a ban on off-campus recruiting for the entire 2013-14 academic year.


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Among the 12 punitive measures taken against Saint Mary's are public reprimand and censure, four years of probation beginning immediately and the loss of two scholarships for each of the next two years, during which there also will be no allowance for coach-supervised "skill instruction" workouts.

And, yes, this means curbing the development of current Saint Mary's basketball players, none of whom is involved.

"This isn't about them,'' Bennett said Friday afternoon. "This isn't on them. They didn't do anything wrong."

It's a high price indeed insofar as the man at the core of the investigation is former assistant coach Keith Moss, who spent less than two seasons at Saint Mary's before resigning in 2009.

Moss is believed to be the only person who had direct contact with the three recruits, all from France, at the center of the investigation and related to the primary violations. None of those players ever came to Saint Mary's, much less put on a Gaels jersey.

Such direct and conspicuous punishment serves as a piercing reminder to those coaches outside the protective bubble generally provided by a traditional powerhouse. The rules are different and, perhaps, always will be.

As a small school in a so-called mid-major conference, Saint Mary's is infinitely more vulnerable to severe punishment in the wake of relatively inconsequential infractions than such high majors as Kentucky and Duke and North Carolina -- schools that keep TV revenue rolling in.

This is another reason coaches climb all over each other chasing jobs at the highest possible levels of college basketball. Power and influence generally tend to provide a certain amount of insulation from receiving a punishment bigger than the crime.

Put simply, NCAA watchdogs would find violations in any program they'd care to devote eyesight and energy. Head coaches realize this. Assistants also know. Student-athletes quickly learn. Alumni often are involved.

That Saint Mary's imposed punishments upon itself was insufficient for the NCAA. The school proposed two years of probation and got four. The school's proposal to surrender one scholarship for one year and that was doubled to two and two.

Saint Mary's proposed that Bennett be restricted from off-campus recruiting for two specific periods, including next month. He instead was nailed for the academic year.

What troubles coaches and administrators at many institutions is the lack of consistency regarding both oversight and punishment. And what bothers many who care about big-time college sports are arbitrary applications of punishment, the timing of announcements and the inconsistencies among its member institutions.

The NCAA investigated both Baylor basketball teams and found violations by both. Men's coach Scott Drew and his assistant made hundreds of illegal phone calls and text messages. Women's coach Kim Mulkey and her staff did the same. During the recruitment of Brittney Griner, which began no later than 2007, Mulkey personally made an illegal personal recruiting pitch to Griner's father, as reported by ESPN.

Facts: Mulkey was named coach of the year in 2012, when Griner was named Player of the Year and the team went 40-0 to win the national championship.

Conclusion: The NCAA nailed Baylor with three years of probation, exactly what it had imposed upon itself. The announcement was made one week after the Lady Bears won the national championship game.

Saint Mary's may wonder about the timing, on the verge of March Madness. It surely believes the punishment excessive. Maybe that's why the school may file an appeal.

Good luck with that. The program that made Omar Samhan famous is going to need it.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.