The NCAA defended its recent rulings in violations cases involving Ohio State and Auburn, saying it does not play favorites or make decisions based on financial considerations.

The NCAA posted a statement on its website yesterday responding to critics. It says "the notion that the NCAA is selective with its eligibility decisions and rules enforcement is another myth with no basis in fact.

"Money is not a motivator or factor as to why one school would get a particular decision versus another. Any insinuation that revenue from bowl games in particular would influence NCAA decisions is absurd, because schools and conferences receive that revenue, not the NCAA."

Last week, the NCAA suspended five Ohio State players for five games next season for selling their championship rings, trophies and other memorabilia items, but is allowing them to play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl.

Before the NCAA handed down its penalties, Ohio State officials informed Sugar Bowl organizers that the school was lobbying for the players to be eligible for the Jan. 4 game. Sugar Bowl executive director Paul Hoolahan told the Columbus Dispatch that he encouraged Ohio State officials to push for the players to be allowed to play against Arkansas.

"I made the point that anything that could be done to preserve the integrity of this year's game, we would greatly appreciate it," Hoolahan was quoted was saying in yesterday's editions of the newspaper.

Last month, the NCAA did not punish Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, even though it ruled his father had solicited money from Mississippi State while that school was recruiting his son.

The NCAA said bowl games, the postseason and NCAA championships are evaluated differently when determining a student-athletes' punishment.

In the Newton case, the Heisman Trophy winner was allowed to continue playing because there was no evidence that he or Auburn knew about Cecil Newton's attempts to get Mississippi State to pay $180,000 for his son's commitment out of junior college.

Yesterday's bowl games

* At Washington, Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen ended his 10-year run at his alma mater with a 51-20 victory over East Carolina in the Military Bowl.

Maryland forced four turnovers, and Da'Rel Scott ran for 201 yards.

New athletic director Kevin Anderson announced last week that Friedgen was being fired, effective after the bowl game, with the school buying out the final year of the 63-year-old coach's contract for $2 million.

Scott had second-half touchdown runs of 61 and 91 yards on back-to-back Terrapins offensive plays and posted the school's first 200-yard rushing game since 2003. D.J. Adams had four short touchdown runs for the Terrapins (9-4). Friedgen finished 75-50 in his decade at Maryland.

After the game, Maryland receiver Torrey Smith says he will enter the NFL draft. Smith has 1 year of eligility remaining but has already graduated.

As for the Terps' now-vacant coaching position, SMU coach June Jones said he has no plans to leave for Maryland. He has removed his name from consideration to replace Friedgen.

* At Houston, Mikel Leshoure ran for 184 yards and three TDs as Illinois earned its first bowl victory since 1999, beating Baylor, 38-14, in the Texas Bowl.

The Illini spoiled the Bears' first bowl appearance in 16 seasons. Both teams finished at 7-6.

Newsworthy

* Mel Tjeerdsma, who won three NCAA Division II national championships at Northwest Missouri State, is retiring. The 64-year-old Tjeerdsma announced that he will retire after 17 years at the school, where he compiled a 183-32 record.

* Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a junior All-American and Lombardi Award winner, says he didn't submit his name to the NFL Collegiate Advisory Committee to evaluate his draft status. Asked if that meant he had made up his mind, Fairley said that "I haven't even thought about it."