April 11, 2012

NCAA cites UW-La Crosse

The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Committee on Infractions released a report finding that the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's intercollegiate athletics program has committed three major violations related to the school's financial aid practices.

The NCAA found the violations began at least as early as the 2007-08 academic year, with evidence that the prohibited practices have been ongoing for 20 years or more. In the period studied, the NCAA found no evidence to suggest that UW-L's student-athletes improperly received financial aid or that members of UW-L's athletics or campus staff acted intentionally to violate NCAA rules. Rather, the University's procedures for awarding financial aid allowed for consideration of athletics leadership, participation, or performance and permitted service of athletics staff members on scholarship selection committees, neither of which is permissible under NCAA legislation. Because the practices were so longstanding, the NCAA concluded that the university failed to educate and monitor those staff members involved in the administration of the scholarship process and the institution's intercollegiate athletics program.

According to the report, the first violation is that from at least the 2007-08 academic year through the 2011-12 academic year, UW-L considered athletics leadership, participation or performance as a criterion in the awarding of two scholarships and allowed for the consideration of these same criteria in the awarding of five additional scholarships. These practices violated NCAA Division III Bylaw 15.4.1-(a), which states that institutions shall not consider such factors in the formulation of financial aid packages.

The second violation is that from at least the 2007-08 academic year through the 2011-12 academic year, members of UW-L's athletics staff, many of whom maintain joint appointments in the University's Exercise and Sport Science Department, served as members of scholarship selection committees, a practice prohibited by NCAA Division III Bylaw 15.4.5.

The third violation is that UW-L failed to monitor and educate personnel involved in the administration of the institution's scholarship program, a conclusion based on the longstanding nature of the university's flawed scholarship practices. The implicated rule, NCAA Division III Bylaw 2.8.1, places responsibility on the institution for the conduct of its intercollegiate athletics program and requires efforts to ensure compliance with applicable NCAA legislation.

The Committee on Infractions' report brings to a close an investigation that has been ongoing since March 2011. The investigation began when financial aid data that UW-L submitted to the NCAA in September 2010 as part of an annually required reporting process indicated that incoming student-athletes were receiving financial aid in disproportionate percentages when compared to their non-athlete peers. The NCAA's Financial Aid Committee conducted a more detailed review and, after determining that violations had occurred, referred the case to the NCAA's enforcement staff, which launched an in-depth investigation. The university cooperated fully in the process, which included providing various documents and facilitating interviews with campus personnel. The enforcement staff served UW-L with an official Notice of Inquiry Letter in October 2011, followed by a draft of allegations in November. Upon reviewing the allegations, the University elected not to contest either the facts or the seriousness of the violations and to pursue the case through the NCAA's summary disposition process.

As a result of these violations, the Committee on Infractions has assessed the university with both punitive actions and corrective measures. For the next two years, UW-L will be on probation, during which time it must institute a variety of educational programs for campus staff, inform prospective student-athletes of the program's probationary status, and submit regular compliance reports to the NCAA. The most notable corrective measures include creating a more dedicated chief compliance officer function on the athletics staff and implementing a variety of campus and departmental educational programs.

To ensure the prompt and accurate dissemination of information pertaining to this case, UW-L has developed a website to serve as a reference for members of the La Crosse community, the media, and prospective student-athletes.

“We regret to announce today that the NCAA has found our athletic program to have committed three major violations related to our university's financial aid practices," said UW-La Crosse athletic director Josh Whitman. "Fortunately, there is no evidence that any person associated with our program acted intentionally to violate NCAA rules, or that our student-athletes actually received aid because of their involvement in athletics. All violations were the result of inadvertent actions on the part of university and athletics staff.  Importantly, no student-athletes were directly involved.

“With any challenge comes opportunity, and we are committed to parlaying these unfortunate circumstances into a learning opportunity for our athletics staff and our greater campus community. Our program prides itself on conducting our operations with the utmost integrity and, with the NCAA's guidance, we will implement new policies and procedures that will help us advance our goal of being the nation's premier Division III intercollegiate athletics program.”

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