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UT Reviewing Claims That Basketball Players Cheated

The University of Texas at Austin is reviewing several possible cases of cheating or academic noncompliance by former basketball players following a report by the Chronicle of Higher Education, school officials said Wednesday.

A look at the sun setting over the University of Texas at Austin Tower in 2011.

The University of Texas at Austin is reviewing several allegations of cheating or academic noncompliance by former basketball players during the tenure of former men's coach Rick Barnes, school officials confirmed Wednesday. 

The school has also notified the National Collegiate Athletic Association about the allegations, which were first raised publicly in a Wednesday article in the Chronicle of Higher Education

"The university takes any suggestion of wrongdoing extremely seriously," the university said in a statement. "We are always looking to identify problems that may exist and ways we can do better."

The school has admitted no wrongdoing, and it did not provide details about who or what it is investigating. Universities are required to notify the NCAA whenever allegations of rules violations are made. 

The article's most serious allegation was that former basketball player Martez Walker was seen "snapping pictures of test questions on his phone and looking for answers from someone outside the classroom" during a final exam in a mathematics class, according to "two former academic advisers informed of the incident." The course's instructor contacted an athletic department liaison about the situation, and the liaison then passed the information up the chain to an associate athletics director, the article said. 

The article said it's unclear what happened next. But it cited a former athletics department employee saying that Walker passed the class. Walker was later named to the Big 12 Conference's academic honor roll, according to the article. He left the team in October after being arrested twice the month before. 

Walker later transferred to Oakland University in Michigan. Scott MacDonald, a spokesman for that school's athletics department, said he couldn't comment on what happened at UT-Austin, but said that Walker is in "good academic standing here in Oakland."

UT-Austin also acknowledged allegations that two other former athletes received "improper help with high school coursework before they enrolled." 

"We are now reviewing three other cases purported to have occurred over a nine-year period since 2006 to determine if any university or NCAA rules were violated and if any action is needed," the statement said. 

The statement doesn't identify the players or disclose any specific details of the cases. A spokesman said student privacy laws prohibit the school from discussing specific students' academic issues. The Chronicle story described one possible case in which a player received help with online courses prior to entering UT-Austin. 

After leading the team for 17 years, Barnes was forced out as coach in March after a disappointing season. The school said that it has no information suggesting that Barnes knew of any academic improprieties. He is now basketball coach of the University of Tennessee. 

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the University of Tennessee released a short statement: “Obviously we can’t talk about what happened in the past at another university, however as stated clearly by the University of Texas, ‘The university has no information that suggests former men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes knew of or was involved in any academic improprieties.’ Coach Barnes has a sterling reputation as a person of very high ethical standards at every institution he has represented and we are excited to have him lead our men’s basketball program."

Meanwhile, UT-Austin said it is committed to maintaining academic integrity.

"Our student-athletes' academic progress rates are among the best in the nation. And we continually seek to foster an ethical culture that reduces the risk of wrongdoing, manages our internal controls, and responds to inappropriate conduct," its statement said. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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