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Discount for Party Led to Lobo Fenton's Penalty

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Lobo Fenton was shopping for place to hold birthday party

The NCAA violation that led to a three-game suspension for University of New Mexico men’s basketball player Jamal Fenton involved his receiving a discounted rate when renting out a ballroom at an Albuquerque hotel for his 21st birthday in April.

Fenton received a $250 discount not available to the general public at the Albuquerque Marriott, 2101 Louisiana Blvd. NE.

Despite Fenton insisting he had neither asked for it nor had known he received it, the NCAA said the discounted rate constituted a violation, and it cost the senior from Houston the first three regular-seasons games of the coming season.

The Marriott is a booster of UNM athletics.

Details of the violation were released to the Journal on Wednesday after an Inspection of Public Records request. Initially, UNM had refused to release any details other than Fenton had been suspended for committing a “minor NCAA violation regarding an impermissible benefit he accepted.”

Coach Steve Alford did not comment about the violation Wednesday, when defeated Victory University in an exhibition game at the Pit. On Monday, he said that he thought the punishment was overly harsh, but he would not disclose details of the violation because he did not want to embarrass Fenton.

“Not knowing I already got the discount, (the hotel sales representative) told me the price and it sounded like a good price for me,” Fenton wrote in an April 25 email to the UNM compliance office after the violation was brought to his attention. Fenton paid $500 for a ballroom that ultimately could have gone to any member of the public for $750.

“If I would have known the real price, I still would have got it because money wasn’t the issue. I had no idea I was getting a good price on the ballroom because this was my first time ever throwing a party in a ballroom and the price she gave me already sounded like a lot.”

Fenton was initially ruled ineligible while the matter was being investigated.

Based on the $250 amount of benefit the NCAA determined Fenton received, he is required to serve a “10 percent withholding condition” penalty, which is why his suspension is three games of UNM’s 31 scheduled regular-season games, and to pay back the amount of the benefit to the charity of his choice.

Fenton can still practice with the team and participate in both exhibition games, including Wednesday night’s game. But he will not be allowed to participate in the Nov. 12 home game against Davidson or the first two of three games in the Paradise Jam tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands from Nov. 16-19.

UNM appealed the punishment specific to the three games Fenton must sit out. The university initially believed that if Fenton were to be ruled ineligible for any of the games in the Virgin Islands that he could not travel with the team. In his letter of appeal to the NCAA, athletic director Paul Krebs said that if Fenton missed the trip, in effect his penalty would total four games. Fenton, though, will be allowed to travel with the team.

UNM also blamed itself in its appeal for not sufficiently educating its “hotel partners” or its athletes on the subject of negotiating discounted rental rates.

“While we do not believe that Jamal was actively trying to secure a discounted rate for the ballroom, additional specific advisement in this area would surely have made him more aware that he needed to be sure he was paying the public rental rate and he would have had the knowledge to ask some additional questions to ensure this was the case,” Dawn Martinez, UNM assistant AD for compliance, wrote to the NCAA.

The NCAA denied the appeal this past week, and the university announced the results Monday.

UNM self-reported the violation to the NCAA after initially being questioned by a local TV station about any possible violation after the party was publicized on Fenton’s Facebook page.

“Jamal did not ask for a discounted rate for the ballroom! I started off at a rate of $800 with his friend … and this was even before I found out it was for Jamal,” the hotel sales representative, who authorized the discount, wrote in an email to UNM’s compliance office.

The hotel sales representative negotiated with a friend, who said the party would be for Fenton and identified Fenton as a UNM student-athlete. Krebs said in his letter that Fenton since has been instructed to “sever his relations” with the friend, and that Fenton has complied.

The hotel employee later wrote: “I had said that since we like UNM so much that we would lower the rate to $500.”

Fenton has paid the amount of the improper discount to UNM Children’s Hospital.

UNM initially thought the public rate for the ballroom was $900, and thus Fenton made a $400 donation.

It was later determined that the ballroom on the day Fenton rented it could have been reserved for $750, but Fenton did not change the amount of his donation.

“Jamal knows he made a mistake,” Alford said Monday.

“It’s a minor violation. I guess I don’t want to talk about it for two reasons. … I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want to hurt the kid because I think he made a mistake, but I’m not in favor of what (the penalty) warrants, either. To keep me out of trouble and keep the university out of trouble, I’d just as soon not comment any further on it. But I’m not very happy with him losing three games.”

The 5-foot-9 senior Fenton, a high-energy crowd favorite who won the team’s slam dunk competition prior to the 2011-12 season, is the top guard off the UNM bench. He averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists per game last season.

He has not been made available to the media to comment on the matter.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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