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The long wait ended last week. The NCAA finally handed down its ruling on athletic violations at Southeast Missouri State University.

The university's men's basketball program was placed on probation for three years and lost a scholarship for violating NCAA regulations. The penalties stopped short of barring the university from post-season tournaments. In general, there was a sigh of relief from all involved with the program and from basketball boosters.

It is hard enough to recruit under the shadow of the NCAA investigation. The long probe made it difficult for men's basketball coach Gary Garner and his staff this year. But the loss of post-season play would have been devastating.

The university has cooperated with investigators. NCAA officials flatly stated that the swift action the university took in firing coaches and reporting the violations avoided stiffer penalties. However, the university's handling of former head coach Ron Shumate's firing -- a fax to his attorney -- is still unconscionable.

The university also must bear the blame for a less-than-stellar monitoring system for NCAA rules and regulations. There are hundreds of NCAA rules and regulations. Coaching staffs need help to make sure compliance is maintained.

On the other hand, the major rules that the NCAA says were violated are basic ones that every coach knows -- or should know -- about. These were not obscure rules at the back of the huge NCAA rule book. The coaches involved should have realized they were skirting the rules.

Coach Shumate or his assistant coaches weren't blatantly paying players. They were trying to help some players who might have been strapped for cash. This certainly is far removed from the stories of players at big schools getting tens of thousands of dollars just to sign. Good intentions and money simply don't mix in college athletics.

But the time for finger pointing should be over at the university. It is time to look to the future and fashion a foolproof system of checks and balances to make sure this kind of problem doesn't happen again.

The NCAA probation will hang over the university's head for three years. That means any violation during that time -- regardless how minor -- could bring more severe penalties. University coaches, players and administrators must follow NCAA rules and regulations to the letter of the law to avoid further penalties.

As such, the university should make sure that sufficient time and resources are devoted to NCAA compliance. Coaches and their assistants in all sports must receive the support they need to comply with all NCAA rules and regulations.

Garner, his assistant coaches and players should be commended for making the best of a tough situation. With the investigation finally ended, the university can move forward once again.