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Originally published December 21, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Page modified December 21, 2013 at 6:57 PM

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Tosh Lupoi investigation: Plenty of unanswered questions

As the NCAA is slated to take a closer look at a situation that could ensnare UW and USC, what it all means remains unclear. It could be nothing, it could be a whole lot, and it could end up in the vast expanse between those two extremes.

Seattle Times columnist

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The Huskies have entered a world where no football program ever wants to go: The murky, mercurial, sometimes-arbitrary, often-overreaching, always-ominous realm of the NCAA’s enforcement division.

The Los Angeles Times revelation this week of potential recruiting violations by Washington defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi sent shivers through Husky Nation.

And, yes, some giggles from those without a vested interest in the program, with the article’s depictions of a coffee cup stuffed with cash, and a paper bag filled with $100 bills left surreptitiously in a restaurant booth. Were these outtakes from a Sopranos parody? Talk about putting the “bucks” into Starbucks.

But, of course, it’s not a laughing matter, not for a university still smarting, 20 years later, from the NCAA investigation that leveled the program and resulted in the departure of Don James.

A decade later, Washington sweated the dreaded “lack of institutional control” charges over gambling on the basketball tournament by coaches and staff members as well as alleged recruiting violations. In that instance, they escaped with relatively minor penalties, but the incident was unsettling and damaging nonetheless.

Where this current situation is headed, nobody knows, of course. It could be nothing, it could be a whole lot and it could end up in the vast expanse between those two extremes. For now, it’s just a he-said, he-said – unless one of the hes has corroborating witnesses and/or the other left a paper trail.

That’s for the NCAA to ferret out, a process that was scheduled to start Friday with a meeting with officials from Washington and USC, Lupoi, and the guy who spilled the sordid details, Mike Davis.

Lupoi is being investigated for allegations that he paid for private tutoring for Husky football recruit Andrew Basham, with Davis, Basham’s former high-school track coach, as the middle man. Lupoi denies it, and Basham’s mother told The Seattle Times that they paid for the tutoring without any involvement from Lupoi. But on the other side is Davis with intricate, cloak-and-dagger details of the alleged exchange of cash.

We’ll ignore, for now, the irony that the NCAA, an organization that perpetually touts its advocacy of “student-athletes,” could be bestowing a penalty for helping a kid further his education. Basham, after all, had already committed to Washington. The issue was getting him into the school.

The upshot is the same as in the Johnny Manziel autograph brouhaha – you can argue the morality and wisdom of the rule, but it’s a rule, in black and white, as detailed on the bylaw blog by John Infante. Specifically, it’s NCAA bylaw 13.15.1:

An institution or a representative of its athletics interests shall not offer, provide or arrange financial assistance, directly or indirectly, to pay (in whole or in part) the costs of the prospective student-athlete’s educational or other expenses for any period prior to his or her enrollment or so the prospective student-athlete can obtain a postgraduate education.

All this is complicated by the fact that USC is now ensnared in this mess along with Washington by virtue of having hired the coach, Steve Sarkisian, who hired Lupoi away from Cal, to much glee from Husky fans.

In the old days, Sarkisian might have been free and clear by pleading ignorance of Lupoi’s alleged actions, as he already has done. But in October 2012, as part of the NCAA’s revamping of its violation structure, the culpability of head coaches was increased.

According to the NCAA, “If a violation occurs, the head coach is presumed responsible, and if he or she can’t overcome that presumption, charges will be forthcoming.”

On the NCAA website, Oregon State president Ed Ray, chairman of the Enforcement Working Group, said of this rule: “We expect head coaches to provide practices and training and written materials that instruct their assistant coaches how to act. If they’ve done that, it can become mitigating evidence that they shouldn’t be held accountable for what the assistant coach did.

“But head coaches have to have these things in place or the presumption will be that he or she didn’t care enough to set standards. In that case, if the assistant goes rogue, then it’s partly the head coach’s fault and they need to be held accountable.”

Did Lupoi go rogue, or is he being unjustly accused? If he did what he’s alleged to have done, how severe would that infraction be in the eyes of the NCAA, both for Washington and for Sarkisian, who could conceivably face a suspension under the new guidelines? Is this an isolated event, or could more charges emerge? Will Lupoi, presumed to be following Sarkisian to USC, still be employed when the dust settles?

These are the unanswered questions that will make things tense for the Huskies and their fans – and not so pleasant down south in Los Angeles — until a resolution comes.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or On Twitter @StoneLarry

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