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Phillips group home didn't break rules, NCAA says

(c) 1995 Copyright The News and Observer Publishing Co.
(c) 1995 Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (Oct 13, 1995 - 20:18 EDT) -- The NCAA ruled Friday that suspended Nebraska tailback Lawrence Phillips did not violate benefits rules by accepting a car and other items from the owners of a group home where he lived as a teen-ager.

Phillips, however, remains suspended. He awaits sentencing Dec. 1 on misdemeanor assault and trespassing charges following the Sept. 10 assault of former girlfriend Katherine McEwen at the apartment of quarterback Scott Frost. Prosecutors have said they will recommend probation.

The NCAA decision clears one of the hurdles that coach Tom Osborne said Phillips must clear before he could return to the team. Osborne said a decision on if and when Phillips would return could come next week.

No. 2 Nebraska (5-0) plays host to Missouri on Saturday and No. 8 Kansas State on Oct. 21. The Cornhuskers play at No. 9 Colorado on Oct. 28.

Osborne has said Phillips must complete anger-control counseling approved by doctors and be cleared by the NCAA. Osborne also has said Phillips' status as a student must not be in doubt and he must meet undisclosed team rules.

A university student conduct committee is expected to meet next week to discuss the case and Osborne said a court order barring contact between Phillips and Frost would have to be modified.

The NCAA investigation centered on information provided by the school regarding the Tina Mac Group home in Phillips' hometown of West Covina, Calif.

Al Papik, Nebraska's athletic director in charge of compliance, said the NCAA investigated the 1995 Mustang convertible leased in the name of one of the home's owners and driven by Phillips since January; at least five round-trip airline tickets to California; and an undetermined amount of spending money.

Nebraska officials contend the owners act as Phillips' legal guardians and should be able to provide money and other items, and the NCAA agreed.

"Based on the facts submitted, the NCAA was not prepared to say the benefits were based on his status as athlete," NCAA spokeswoman Kathryn Reith said. "The staff believed there was enough of a parental relationship there."

Reith said the ruling by NCAA legislative services staff would be relayed to the eligibility and enforcement departments and an official notification would be made next week. Papik said he wasn't sure that meant the NCAA had finished investigating Phillips.

Osborne also met Friday with James Griesen, the university's vice chancellor in charge of student affairs. Griesen would say only that Phillips remained a student and that the running back was not at the meeting.