Saturday, September 15, 2007
Lobogate Destroyed Basketball Program in '79
By Mark Smith
Journal Staff Writer
In the fall of 1979, Lobo basketball was in the midst of its most glorious era. That ended suddenly and dramatically.
And it had nothing to do with the team's performance on the floor.
As a result of a federal investigation, the NCAA came sniffing around the University of New Mexico, resulting in a grade-fixing scandal that led to the decimation of the program.
"In the end, the NCAA found that the Lobo coaching staff had broken 34 rules," said UNM sports information director Greg Remington.
Head coach Norm Ellenberger was fired as a result of the findings, which included falsifying transcripts in order to get players eligible. It led to state and federal charges.
Ellenberger was acquitted of all seven federal charges, but was convicted on 21 of 22 state charges the he filed false university travel vouchers.
The Lobos, two years removed from a season in which they were ranked No. 4 in the nation, went 6-22 that 1979-80 season with a walk-on filled roster.
The scandal rocked the college basketball world and UNM would go 13 years between NCAA Tournament appearances.
Remington, who came to UNM shortly after Lobogate, says "by sheer volume" Friday's NCAA allegations against the Lobo football program aren't as severe as its basketball brethren suffered nearly three decades ago.
"But I don't want to minimize these allegations," he said. "They are major violations, but the Lobogate punishment was three years probation stemming from 34 charges."