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College Sports, Education

NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions Issues Decision in SUNY Potsdam Enforcement Case

The NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions issued its April 21, 2011, decision finding that the State University of New York at Potsdam violated NCAA financial-aid rules. The violations involved the university awarding financial-aid packages to student-athletes that represented a pattern clearly distinguishable from the general pattern of all financial-aid for the general student body. The committee noted that while the violations were unintentional they still represented a significant competitive advantage. This case was resolved through the summary disposition process, which is “a cooperative effort where the involved parties submit the case to the Committee on Infractions in written form” and occurs “when the NCAA enforcement staff, the school and involved individuals agree to the facts of the case and the school-proposed penalties, they may use this process instead of having a formal hearing”.

The facts of this case occurred during the 2008-09 through 2009-2010 academic school years. The financial-aid, which was awarded in the form of International Initiative Grants, was designed to increase the presence of international students enrolled at the university. These grants were being distributed to the men’s and women’s ice hockey; men’s and women’s lacrosse; women’s volleyball; and women’s soccer programs. The coaches for these programs were using these grants to successfully recruit Canadian student-athletes while the admissions office was not having as much success. While inadvertent, the problem was that in 2008-09, 24% of these grants were being awarded to student-athletes even though student-athletes only represented 11% of the total student population. In 2009-10, 17% of these grants were being provided to student-athletes even though they only represented 8% of the total student population. Because these percentages were not closely equivalent it was determined that the university had violated NCAA Bylaw 15.4.1(d) on inconsistent financial-aid packaging.

NCAA Division III member institutions can enhance their rules-compliance programs by implementing lessons learned from this infractions case, including:

•Develop and implement a comprehensive rules-education program on NCAA legislation to instruct the coaches, the faculty athletics representative, all athletics department personnel and all institution staff members with responsibility for the certification of student-athletes for admission, retention, financial-aid, or competition. The program in this case should have a special emphasis on understanding NCAA Division III financial-aid bylaws and should be targeted at athletics department staff and coaches and employees working within the university registrar, financial-aid, and admissions offices. ;

•Develop and implement logging and monitoring systems for the non-athletics based scholarships being provided to Division III student-athletes. This information should include the scholarship name, amount, source of funding, purpose, and how the recipient became aware and/or applied for the scholarship. This system should be managed and maintained in conjunction with the university registrar, financial-aid, and admissions offices.

•Conduct a regular external audit of the athletics financial-aid monitoring system and athletics rules education process.

Post author: Justin Sievert, Esquire

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About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, compliance, professional development and legal services.

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