What do we get from U of M basketball?

About 16 years ago, the St. Paul Pioneer Press won a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering an academic fraud scandal in the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team. Someone was writing academic papers for the student-athletes and the coach and most of the athletic department was in on the scam.

Outrage ensued.

That might be the last time any outrage surfaced over the off-court reality of the U’s basketball program. Nobody believes college player have much interest in an education and there are few people left who aren’t on to the cabal that is the NCAA.

The stench from the U of M athletic department has only gotten stronger since then. So we’ve gotten better at holding our nose.

But today’s Star Tribune report on an internal audit of the men’s and women’s program nonetheless forces us to ask: What do we get out out of the U of M basketball program?

It found men’s coach Richard Pitino has spent twice as much on private jet travel as his contract allows, and nobody seemed to be keeping track of it anyway. The jet is used for recruiting high school players and, judging by the team’s record under Pitino, there isn’t enough kerosene left on earth to expect it can turn things around.

The audit found that both men’s and women’s basketball programs spent more than allowed on hotels, private cars, birthday or holiday parties, meals and valet parking, the Star Tribune reported, noting that big-time coaches at other schools have bigger budgets for recruiting.

The person in charge of the athletic department — Beth Goetz — couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to the Star Tribune, but essentially blamed things on her predecessor, Norwood Teague, who resigned in disgrace (as much disgrace as can be mustered in college athletics anymore) after groping women.

On the same day Teague resigned last year, Richard Pitino got a $400,000 raise and a buyout increase that will cost the U $7 million to show him the door, the Strib’s Chip Scoggins noted in his column yesterday.

Nobody, especially U of M President Eric Kaler, thought that unusual, Scoggins suggested.

Teague admitted to sexually harassing two high-ranking university officials and also revealed he had a drinking problem. And yet nobody questioned Teague’s hefty buyout to a young coach who had accomplished next to nothing, except to bamboozle Teague with an unsubstantiated rumor that another school might be interested in hiring him.

Kaler authorized that $7 million buyout because … well, actually I still have no clue why he agreed to it. Pitino certainly didn’t earn it.

One week after Teague’s abrupt departure, Kaler’s chief of staff Amy Phenix and interim AD Beth Goetz signed a contract that basically stuck the university with a coach who has ushered the program into crisis.

This week, four finalists for Teague’s job are being interviewed and a new athletic director could be named next week, the Pioneer Press reports.

The winner gets to clean up a mess made on the watch of the person who’ll choose which one gets the job.