Bjork not worried about Harper’s past catching up to him

Newly appointed interim Head Coach Ray Harper discusses the dismissal of former WKU Head Coach Ken McDonald at a press conference in Diddle Arena’s Media Room on Friday. Harper said he is focused soley on the next game, and getting the season back on track.

Cole Claybourn

It might not take long for one to raise an eyebrow when looking at newly appointed interim head coach Ray Harper’s coaching résumé.

Why would one of the most successful coaches in Division-II history leave to take a job at an NAIA school?

An NCAA investigation that spanned several sports at Kentucky Wesleyan College revealed a wide range of minor rules violations and resulted in KWC being cited for “lack of institutional control” and prompted Harper to leave the school for NAIA Oklahoma City.

The investigation found that two student-athletes on the men’s basketball team during the 2002-2003 season were academically ineligible, wiping away a runner-up finish by the Panthers in the Division-II national tournament that season.

Years later Harper now stands as the leader of a Division-I basketball team for the first time in his career, and neither he nor Athletics Director Ross Bjork are worried about any of Harper’s past dealings with the NCAA Committee on Infractions.

Bjork cited Harper’s on-court success as a reason to believe in him.

“He, performance-wise, performed at a high level,” Bjork said. “I’ve read the case in great detail and I’m confident that Coach Harper was OK in that process. He did leave the program, but we’ve talked about that and I’m confident in what happened in that whole process.”

The findings resulted in the men’s basketball program losing one scholarship for the 2006-2007 season.

Harper’s on-court success certainly catches an eye. He made KWC a perennial powerhouse in Division-II basketball, winning two national titles in 1999 and 2001 and had a long-standing rivalry with former Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl, who coached Division-II and fellow Great Lakes Valley Conference foe Southern Indiana from 1992-2001.

Harper won 247 games and lost just 46 in his 12 years at KWC and won 30 or more games in six straight seasons from 1998-2003, an NCAA record. Along with the two national titles, Harper’s teams finished runners-up in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003 until the latter was vacated.

But with any coach who has been a part of a program where sanctions or disciplinary actions were handed down by the NCAA for violations under their watch, they face the potential of having that stigma attached to their name wherever they go.

That’s perhaps more true for Harper at WKU because the instance in question happened at a school just a little over an hour away, so fans are likely to be familiar with the situation.

Because the problems weren’t just with basketball, rather eight sports involving 45 athletes, the problems appeared to be university and compliance issue, not just an issue with Harper.

In the report, the Division-II Committee on Infractions said, “the case mainly involved violations in the areas of student-athlete eligibility certification, tracking of countable athletically related activities, and monitoring of promotional activities.”

Harper acknowledged the situation on Friday. But because the issue seemed to be a larger circumstance at KWC, he said he isn’t worried about the instance affecting his reputation as head coach.

He said if fans really knew the situation, they’d know the truth.

“I think that anyone that has read the case, that has looked at it, understands the full dynamic of that,” he said. “I’m not concerned about it. I’m comfortable with that situation.”