Zakharov averaged 12.3 points per game last year playing in all 31 games for the USU Eastern Golden Eagles.
NJCAA strips USU Eastern of last year's basketball record
While it was only two minutes court time on the other side of the planet, those 120 seconds have cost the USU Eastern men's basketball team more than just a key player for the early part of this season.
The National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced last week that it has placed sanctions on the team for using a player deemed ineligible - sanctions that will erase all wins in the 2010-11 season from the records and impose a ban on tournament play this season. The player in question is Max Zakharov, a 6-foot-6-inch sophomore from Russia.
An inquiry by the NJCAA found that Zakharov had played with professional players in a summer league in Europe before he arrived at USU Eastern to play for the late head coach Brad Barton, who passed away in October. The investigation turned up information, including a box score on a pay website of a professional game that Zakharov had participated in for just under two minutes of play.
Dave Paur, USU Eastern athletic director, said an unnamed athletic director within the Scenic West Athletic Conference had found the information about Zakharov on the website sometime last year. Teams within the SWAC apparently had knowledge of the issue, Paur said, but the unnamed athletic director did not provide the information to Paur, the USU Eastern athletic department or the NJCAA until a few weeks before this current season began.
Once he looked first-hand into the issue dealing with Zakharov's eligibility and the NJCAA rules, Paur said he realized that the player would be deemed ineligible to play for USU Eastern under the current rules.
According to Article V Section 11.A.8.c.v of the NJCAA Handbook and the rules governing the amateur status of student-athletes, it states "An individual loses amateur status and thus shall not be eligible for intercollegiate competition in a NJCAA certified sport if any of the following criteria applies: (v) Competes on any professional athletics team, or on a team where any member of the team is considered professional, even if no pay or remuneration for expenses was received."
This legislation was passed by the membership in March 2010 and implemented on Aug.1, 2010, according to Brian Beck, assistant executive director of compliance with the NJCAA.
While the NJCAA and National Collegiate Athletic Association have similar rules in regards to player eligibility, they differ on this particular rule. In the NCAA, a player is only considered a professional if they are paid money when playing with a professional team.
"The (eligibility) rule in the NJCAA is certainly more severe than the NCAA rule," said Paur, who has been the head coach of the women's team for the last 23 years and is also serving as an assistant on the men's team. To his knowledge, Paur said this is the first time this kind of issue has happened at USU Eastern.
According to Paur, this issue has come up recently with other league teams. However the example involving a female basketball player, he says, took place before the rule regarding eligibility was put in place.
When Zakharov was recruited to USU Eastern, Barton and the rest of the coaching staff did their due diligence and verified to the NJCAA that Zakharov was considered an amateur and would be eligible to play, according to a press release from USU Eastern Vice Chancellor Brad King. The information the college provided to the NJCAA included an affidavit from the club team that Zakharov had competed with which said he never received money for playing.
USU Eastern officials filed an official appeal to the NJCAA Executive Board, stating that the the school had enacted in good faith to establish Zakharov's eligibility and the very minimal participation without compensation. The school also included within its appeal the difficult circumstances the team has endured with the loss of Barton shortly before the season began in November, the fact that only three current players on the roster participated on the team last year and the coaching staff including interim head coach Brian Edelstein and assistant coach Dave Hammer were new to the team this season.
The NJCAA typically takes 21 days to respond to any allegations that are made to the governing body about issues including the eligibility of a player, Beck said.
The USU Eastern team and coaching staff were notified of the appeal's failure during a trip to Nebraska over a week ago. The ruling by the NJCAA is considered final, with no further appeals possible.
"The players were stunned when they heard the about the sanctions," Paur said.
The sanctions against the USU Eastern Mens basketball team include:
No participation in the 2012 Scenic West Athletic Conference tournament
The team is not eligible to participate in the 2012 NJCAA National Basketball Tournament
Wins from the 2010-11 season, from which Zakharov participated in, are now vacated.
The last part of the sanctions may be the one that hurts USU Eastern the most. Barton, a beloved coach by his players and the USU Eastern community, guided the team to a 23-7 record while working under an interim head coach tag, after previous head coach Chris Craig left for an assistant coach position at the University of Northern Colorado. Barton was later named as the head coach shortly after the season ended.
While the college and many who knew and loved Barton will remember his coaching record, the NJCAA will forever place an asterisk next to the team's 23-7 record from last season with an asterisk next to it, almost as if the games were never played.
"It's been a tough year for all of us," Paur said. Despite the wins from last season being vacated, Paur said it probably wouldn't really change the way people look at the issue or erase the knowledge of how the team finished last year.
While the issue of recruiting can be a tricky topic for any coach at any level to handle, Paur said the school will continue to recruit foreign players like Zakharov and Priscila Santos, a player on the women's team who came from Brazil, for sports. But now, Paur explained, the school will need to continue working on being vigilant, looking at as much information, including the use of pay sites, about possible future recruits as possible.
Meanwhile, Zakharov, who played in all 31 games as a freshman and averaged 12.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, has been in street clothes sitting on the bench watching his teammates play since the season started. While the USU Eastern men's team may feel the effects of the sanctions with the vacated wins and the lost chance at postseason play this season, the sanctions will not hurt Zakharov going forward.
According to Paur, Zakharov would not lose a year of eligibility as an athlete. Therefore, if Zakharov transferred to a Division I or Division II school to continue playing basketball, he would still have three years left to play.
Edelstein declined to comment on the issue involving the sanctions facing the team and Zakharov was not made available for comment.
While the prospects of winning the league tournament or reaching the NJCAA National Tournament are now out of the picture, Edelstein said the team will still continue to focus on its goal of competing for a SWAC league championship.
"We still want to win a league championship and that's been one of our original goals heading into the season," he said.