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INTRO: This weekend the UNLV Running Rebel's basketball team engages in the last game of the season. Running the team of the last three years is the father son team - Assistant Coach Jay Spoonhour and Head Coach Charlie Spoonhour. State Nepotism laws prohibit such a working relationships between family members. KNPR's Ky Plaskon reports on how UNLV Athletics is avoiding the law.
PLASKON: Though Jay Spoonhour's coaching career spans almost a decade - he has spent most of it under his father's wing - Charlie Spoonhour. Only a year after Jay started coaching at Missouri State University he joined his father as an assistant coach at Saint Louis University. They ran the team together and departed together in 1999. Jay was on his own again for a year after that and coached in Illinois where he carried a team through a near flawless season. But three days after his father was hired as UNLV's head coach in March 2001, Jay received an offer letter from UNLV too. UNLV Senior Associate Athletic Director Jerry Koloskie explains.
KOLOSKIE: The head coach is responsible for hiring their staff. There is a comfort level and it is very common for that to happen.
PLASKON: Common, but usually not legal in state-funded positions. Nevada Revised Statute 281, says it is unlawful for any University employer to hire a relative. The law says anyone who does so, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor, unless the position is unpaid. Jay Spoonhour's starting base salary was $85,000. Since it's against the law for Charlie to hire his son Jay, technically the Athletic Director did it. But Nevada Administrative Code section 284.375 also prevents that. It says an appointing authority shall not appoint a person who will be in the direct line of authority of a spouse, child, parent or sibling. In order to avoid the administrative code, the University attached a form letter to Jay's assistant coach contract saying that the Director of Athletics will be his direct supervisor rather than his father the Head Coach. Koloskie says they use this kind of strategy all the time so that relatives can work together in UNLV Athletics.
KOLOSKIE: That way it alleviates any type of concern of any type of compromise of the relationship between the employee and the supervisor.
PLASKON: They do it because these family members have a better chance of succeeding with each other's help.
KOLOSKIE: Once again loyalty is different . . . if it is your son or daughter, everyone is working toward the same goal and that is what coaches are looking for.
PLASKON: Marc Ghan, UNLV's General Counsel, declined a recorded interview but said this would appear to fly in the face of the law. The Board of Regents approved Charlie Spoonhour as head coach, but Ghan was surprised to see that the hiring of Spoonhour's son wasn't considered by the Board because even the Board's policy prohibits relatives supervising other relatives. Under the policy, the President of the University can make exceptions to the state nepotism laws if they cause hardship for the President, such as not enough applicants to fill a position. Koloskie says allowing coaches to hire his or her relatives, really prevents hardship for the coach who's under a lot of pressure to win.
KOLOSKIE: It is hard to put limitations on a coach when you are asking them, Hay you gotta win, but at the same time you are saying you can't hire these individuals to work for you.
PLASKON: So, UNLV has embraced nepotism elsewhere.
KOLOSKIE: We kinda found the same thing out in volleyball where the husband is the head coach and the wife is the assistant.
PLASKON: And nepotism is in UNLV Football too.
KOLOSKIE: Right, coach Robinson has his son working for him, David Robinson.
PLASKON: Despite the prevalence of family relationships in UNLV Athletics, it's not critical to the success of the program Koloskie says.
KOLOSKIE: Well, I think sports would be the same. I don't think it wouldn't change anything if relatives wouldn't be able to hire their relatives.
PLASKON: Nepotism laws have been in effect in Nevada since 1952 to give everyone a fair chance at state funded jobs according to Assistant Attorney General Jim Spencer.
SPENCER: Basically it is to make sure you don't have kingships and fiefdoms among public government.
PLASKON: Tomorrow, the public can see the spoils of nepotism at work in the UNLV Running Rebels Basketball game. Jay Spoonhour has succeeded his father to the throne of interim Head Coach.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR