The University of Maryland football program has experienced uncommon success in its first two seasons under Ralph Friedgen. But along with the gaudy 21-5 record, one Atlantic Coast Conference championship and two straight bowl appearances comes word of an unwanted appendage to the team's renewed status among the game's elite.
A possible major rules infraction.
According to a report in today's Washington Post, the NCAA infractions committee is expected to announce shortly that the rules violation Maryland officials reported several months ago for a former assistant coach's payment of $335 to a highly touted recruit from Baltimore is being considered a major infraction. The Post attributed the report to an unnamed source.
Through its own investigation, Maryland concluded that the money Rod Sharpless gave Gilman defensive end Victor Abiamiri - reportedly to help Abiarmiri pay for a video game machine - was a secondary infraction. If that had been the case, the Terps would not have been subject to any probation or ban from postseason bowl consideration.
The incident was first reported after an assistant coach at Gilman called Friedgen to tell him in late January that Abiamiri had received the money from Sharpless. According to the player's mother, Abiamiri repaid Maryland 10 days before the national signing period.
Sharpless, a 25-year coaching veteran with no previous blemishes on his record, was later forced to resign and Abiamiri, who was believed to be headed to College Park to join his two brothers, both of whom play for the football team, went to Notre Dame instead.
Reached by telephone last night, Friedgen said: "I have nothing to say until we hear from the NCAA."
The Post reported that Maryland officials met with the NCAA infractions committee June 13 in Kansas City, Mo.
Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow couldn't be reached for comment. Earlier in the day, she told the Post: "We have not received a response from the committee, but we have no reason to believe that any significant programatic sanctions would occur regardless of how the committee characterizes its findings concerning the football team."
The Terps could be found guilty of a major infraction and not have any further sanctions imposed. It is not clear what, if any, sanctions Maryland officials had offered to place on the football program.
"I'm not really concerned about it," Friedgen told the Post after practice. "We've done everything we can to show institutional control. I don't think we gained a recruiting advantage because we stopped recruiting the kid, so we'll just have to wait and see."
Shortly after the incident was disclosed, a consultant to the NCAA on infractions said Maryland was fortunate Abiamiri hadn't signed to play for the Terps.
"They are much better not having signed him," Lynn Lashbrook told The Sun in February. "It would have been much more serious had he signed."
Benjamin A. Leonard, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in NCAA compliance, said in February that, if no other athletes were found to have received improper offers, the program could get off with a warning or probation. But, he said, "If they see a pattern of behavior, that would be a major violation."
One of Abiamiri's older brothers said that he was sorry his younger sibling couldn't have played for the Terps. Junior tight end Rob Abiamiri said his brother plans to leave for South Bend on Saturday.
"He was going to come, and I was very excited before that whole situation went down," Rob Abiamiri said after practice yesterday. "It was disappointing, because me and him are pretty tight. I'm over it now. You have to move on, but it was disappointing."
Sun staff writer Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.