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UTEP basketball suspends three for gambling

McKenzie Moore UTEP guard McKenzie Moore, right, is one of three Miners suspended for gambling. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Breezing by the UTEP men's basketball website, one learns all sorts of things. The Miners swept Conference USA honors, they captured a Sun Bowl Invitational title, they muscled by hated Montana State. But nothing after the new year, nothing to see here, which makes sense for a place that would just as soon forget what came after.

The university announced Tuesday that three players -- Justin Crogsile, McKenzie Moore and Jalen Ragland -- were kicked off the team after UTEP found they gambled on at least one sporting event. UTEP's executive vice president, Richard Adauto, said at a news conference that the school had no information to indicate the trio took part in point-shaving, which becomes an entirely different, snarling, insidious deal.

"That's how I feel right now,"  UTEP coach Tim Floyd said, "like I've been kicked in the stomach."

He might be thankful for it. Really, this is less gut punch than black eye. It certainly isn't a terribly good look for Floyd, who defended his pursuit of "character" players but had everyone's memory jogged about the O.J. Mayo muddle and violations that drowned the end of his USC tenure. Still, there is this hilarious irony: It's sometimes better to have the FBI investigating your program than the NCAA.

UTEP said it received information in December that the players might have been betting on games and then contacted the FBI. If the school has been entirely forthcoming, if no other specters lurk behind drawn curtains, this is effectively a dodged bullet and a moment that has little lasting impact beyond the season. It would be shocking for the NCAA to step in without new information or unless UTEP was found to be negligent in educating its players about gambling. The absence of point-shaving allegations prevents a full-scale, no-stone-unturned investigation by the feds that brings into question just what everyone knew and just how involved (or not) everyone was. That's ugly and preferably avoided.

"We are privy to the fact that they violated rules but we do know that up to now they were not betting on UTEP games," Adauto said.

As it is, three knuckleheads gambled. They're gone. There are no debilitating sanctions applied after that, and presumably no one will lose their job to create still more turmoil. Floyd is without Moore, a 6-foot-6 guard who was the team's leading scorer. He loses a role player in Crogsile, who averaged 5.4 points in 21 minutes per game. He loses Ragland, a bit contributor who averaged 3.7 points a night. (The players are suspended at least a year per NCAA rules, too.)

There are the distractions of the present and the roster-balance challenges that the personnel losses create. But these are problems that have little discernible echo beyond the 2013-14 season. UTEP had a grim moment Tuesday, and the school would do well to examine intensely the environment or elements that fostered it in the first place. It was a bad day that could have been a lot worse.

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