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NCAA violations imperil USF's Christiansen

University of South Florida athletic officials have confirmed that acting men's soccer coach David Christiansen committed two NCAA rules violations in recent months, which could jeopardize his future with the school.

Christiansen, who led the Bulls to their best post-season finish after taking over in July, has run into trouble several times in the off-season.

According to public records and interviews with USF officials, Christiansen has been involved in three embarrassing incidents since December, beginning with one that was alcohol-related and followed by the two NCAA violations _ the first for using an ineligible player in an exhibition game, the second for having a tryout for a local high school prospect.

The university reported the first violation to the NCAA, which determined it was a less serious infraction and agreed with USF's self-imposed sanctions.

The school's investigation into the improper tryout is officially ongoing, but USF compliance director Steve Horton said Thursday a rule has been broken.

The next step for USF, Horton said, is to determine what penalty athletic director Paul Griffin and associate director Barbara Sparks-McGlinchy will impose on the program and on Christiansen before reporting the violation to the NCAA.

The penalty could range from "letters of reprimand to suspension to a loss of a pay raise, all the way through a termination," Horton said. "Our rules have it so each contract has a statement in it that if you violate NCAA rules you could be terminated."

Although he said this incident, like the first one, probably also will be viewed as a secondary rules infraction, it is the second in a short span from the same coach.

Christiansen, 29, has been acting head coach since Logan Fleck, then the head coach for the men's and women's teams, resigned to coach only the women's program.

USF is required by state law to advertise for a permanent coach before the end of the year, and based on the team reaching the NCAA Elite Eight, Christiansen would appear to be the front-runner.

Sparks-McGlinchy said her plan was for Christiansen to coach a second season on an interim basis but added she has not seen all of Horton's report.

"Obviously, we'll take a hard look at it," Sparks-McGlinchy said. "He's still my head coach."

Meanwhile, Christiansen said he has signed 11 recruits this spring, a class he called one of the best in school history, and was looking forward to building on last year's success.

"I've continued with these players, trying to prepare them for the fall, and I really feel like I can't speculate on how people feel about it," he said Wednesday. "I feel that the program is on very strong ground right now."

He said he couldn't discuss the second violation until the internal investigation was complete.

Christiansen, a USF assistant for two years before being elevated, led the Bulls to last year's NCAA quarterfinals by upsetting Florida International and St. John's, the 1996 NCAA finalists. The Bulls' run ended with a 6-0 loss at top-ranked and undefeated Indiana.

That trip marked the beginning of his troubles.

Witnesses told Sparks-McGlinchy that Christiansen was drinking on the way back from Indiana, had "difficulty with Delta" personnel when he lost his ticket for the Atlanta-to-Tampa leg and was "taken off" the plane before he was allowed to reboard. Shortly after the trip, she met with Christiansen about his behavior.

"We came to an understanding of what coaches' responsibilities are, both on and off the road," she said, adding that sometimes people don't always use the "best judgment" after a significant loss.

Said Christiansen: "We've dealt with that internally and we've moved forward."

Right into another problem.

Needing one player to round out a starting lineup for an exhibition against a Swedish professional team on Jan. 28, Christiansen used former USF player Carlton Williams, who is a professional indoor player.

According to public records, USF officials learned of the incident from an outside source, investigated and concluded that Christiansen had violated an NCAA rule.

Christiansen said he thought Williams, who trained occasionally with his former teammates, could play in a game that didn't count. But the NCAA counts such spring contests.

"It was a mistake," he said. "I learned from it, and I feel like it will help me in the future in my understanding of the NCAA rules and regulations."

In self-reporting the incident to the NCAA, USF promised to place a letter of reprimand in Christiansen's file and require him to lecture on the rule in question at the next coaches educational seminar. USF also cut the number of permissible contests for the 1998 spring exhibition season from five to four. The NCAA, in a letter dated April 3, agreed that no further sanctions were necessary.

But no sooner had USF officials closed that case than they had to open another.

Acting on another tip, they started looking into whether Brandon High senior goalkeeper Tim Riek had a tryout. Division I schools are forbidden from conducting tryouts for prospects.

That's not the case for schools below the Division I level, but Riek, who had worked out for a Division II program, did not know it was not allowed at Division I, Horton said.

"It's very, very confusing for kids," Horton said. "He had no idea there was any problem."

Chuck Smrt, a director of enforcement at the NCAA, said that if a prospect had a tryout then signed with the school, he would be ruled ineligible. The school would have to petition the NCAA for the restoration of his eligibility. But Horton stressed that in this case, should Riek sign with the school, restoring his eligibility would be only a formality.

Riek, who is considering Tampa, NAIA power Lindsey Wilson, Stetson and USF, said he met last week with Horton, who suggested that if he were contacted by a reporter he should direct him or her to the school. Riek declined to comment further.

"It's a violation I don't like to see," Horton said of the tryout, "and I'm sure that Mr. Griffin and Barbara don't like to see it either."