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Thomas Niland; built LeMoyne sports program

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Thomas J. Niland Jr., LeMoyne College's first basketball coach and athletic director, has died after a long illness, the school announced yesterday. He was 83.

Mr. Niland died early yesterday at his daughter's home on Cape Cod, said LeMoyne's sports information director, Mike Donlin.

Mr. Niland, a member of the NCAA panel that dealt out the so-called "death penalty" to the SMU football program in the late 1980s, spent 43 years involved in athletics at LeMoyne, a Division II Jesuit college. When he arrived in 1947 to spearhead the new athletics program, he was the lone coach at a college with no gymnasium or playing fields.

Today, there is an athletic center, playing fields, and a recreation center, named the Thomas J. Niland Jr. Athletic Complex.

As a coach, Mr. Niland compiled a career record of 327-219 and took LeMoyne to the NCAA Division II tournament seven times during a 26-year coaching career that ended in 1973. Mr. Niland continued serving as athletic director until retiring in 1990. Born in Tonawanda, N.Y., Mr. Niland graduated in 1947 from Canisius College, where he excelled in basketball and was team captain his junior and senior years. He also was president of his senior class.

Mr. Niland left college during World War II to serve as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division. He also fought in the Normandy invasion and several other battles, earning the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

Mr. Niland earned national distinction as an athletic director and was on the NCAA basketball rules committee.

As part of the NCAA's infractions committee, Mr. Niland took part in the historic 1987 decision requiring Southern Methodist University to disband its football program because of rampant cheating.

"We've got our priorities mixed up," Mr. Niland said in a Time magazine article a few years later. "We used to play because we thought the kids were entitled and there were some values to be learned outside the classroom -- hard work, sweat, the enjoyment of winning, and even some disappointment. Then we got involved in how much money we could make at it, and it changed the game," Mr. Niland said then.

Funeral arrangements had not been made yesterday.

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