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College Sports, Division I, Education

NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement Education Series: Impermissible Extra-Benefits and Financial-Aid

The NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff has issued decisions recently concerning high-profile student-athletes at several NCAA Division I institutions. The Michael L. Buckner Law Firm provided a multi-part series on the student-athlete reinstatement process. The series can be reviewed by using the following links: Part I; Part II; and Part III. Based on the reinstatement decisions involving high-profile student-athletes, the firm continues its recurring series to educate member institutions and the public on the student-athlete reinstatement process by looking into prior decisions and the rationale the staff used to evaluate each case.

Today’s post will review Student-Athlete Reinstatement Case No. 36686 (which was decided on January 24, 2011). The case involved men’s volleyball student-athletes at a Division I institution.

Facts: Institution self-reported multiple violations involving institution’s men’s volleyball team and head men’s volleyball coach related to the provision of impermissible extra benefits and financial aid to numerous men’s volleyball student-athletes (SAs) and the four specified SAs. Specifically, institution’s head volleyball coach stated that a representative of another institution’s interests paid for a team meal received by 13 SAs while on an away-from-home trip to Hawaii for competition April 2008. Institution valued the cost of the meal per SA at $15. Also, 14 SAs stayed at the homes of four representatives of institution’s interests (boosters) while on an away-from-home trip to California for three nights January 2010. Institution’s coaching staff planned lodging arrangements prior to trip but did not work with institution’s compliance staff regarding travel. According to institution, this was the only time this arrangement occurred. Institution valued cost of lodging per SA at $195 for three nights. Institution states that each violation could have been avoided if coaches and boosters had worked with proper institutional authorities to provide the meals and lodging. Further, during 2010 spring semester, SA Nos.3 and 4 were approached by coach to provide portions of the increase in athletics aid they each received to SA Nos. 1 and 2 who were not on athletics aid but had previously been on athletics aid in their careers at institution. SA No. 3, a second year SA provided $700 to SA No. 1, a second-year SA, while SA No. 4, a third year SA provided a value of $400 to SA No. 2, a third year SA, who is also SA No. 4’s cousin and roommate by paying SA No. 2’s share of the rent. Additional athletics aid became available for 2010 spring semester because a recruited prospective student-athlete (PSA) who planned to enroll at institution midyear decided not to attend institution. Coach asked institution’s compliance staff if he could provide the remaining athletics aid funds to SA Nos. 1 and 2. Institution’s compliance officer indicated that SA Nos. 1 and 2 could not directly receive athletics aid during 2009-10 academic year because both SAs were not provided with athletics aid at the beginning of the academic year and did not qualify for any legislated exceptions that would permit the receipt of aid. Coach then decided to increase the athletics aid awards of SA Nos. 3 and 4. SA Nos. 1 and 3 each stated that former coach met with SA Nos 1 and 3 to inform them that SA No. 3 was receiving an increase in his athletics aid award so that he could provide SA No. 1 with funds. SA No. 3 received $1,000 increase in athletics aid and provided SA No. 1 with $700. SA Nos. 2 and 4 stated that they had a similar meeting with coach regarding the increase in athletics aid that SA No. 4 would receive. SA No. 4 did not provide SA No. 2 with cash but paid SA No. 2’s share of rent of $400 out of his $1,000 increase in athletics aid.

Additional Facts: At each meeting, former head coach told SAs to keep the information regarding the increase in aid and providing money to SA No. 1 and SA No. 2 to themselves. Each SA stated that because former head coach was providing the money they believed they were not violating NCAA rules. Institution explained that they did not provide specific rules education regarding procedures associated with distribution of athletics aid. Institution requests that staff follow the institutional action based on the mitigating factors listed below: The financial aid awarded at mid-year to SA No. 3 and SA No. 4 was permissible and properly administered by institution. The arrangement made by the coach involving the four SAs resulted in the violation. Specifically, institution stated that SAs relied on the direction of the former head coach on it being permissible to accept the increases in their respective athletics aid. Institution believes the reliance the athletes had on the coach, along with the fact the athletes could have received money from other permissible sources (e.g., SAOF) warrant a reduction in the standard penalties. The incident was isolated in nature and was a relatively small amount. The total of the two extra benefits ($1100) is less than 10% of the institution’s value for a full grant-in-aid. The violation did not create a competitive advantage as the two players who received aid were not starters on team.

Institution Action: Institution suspended coach indefinitely from all coaching duties and responsibilities while institution conducted investigation related to violation and subsequently relieved coach of his position August 18, 2010. Institution’s men’s volleyball team will implement a scholarship reduction of one full scholarship over a two-year period, with a .75 reduction in the 2010-11 academic year and a .25 in the 2011-12 academic year. Institution’s president will address institution’s athletics staff members at an upcoming meeting to directly remind them of the importance of staying within both the spirit and the letter of the NCAA rules. Men’s volleyball coaching staff will be required to participate in a monthly one on one rules-education meeting with a members of compliance staff through 2011-12 academic year. A sport administrator or member of compliance staff will periodically travel with men’s volleyball team to provide closer oversight during away from campus trips during 2010-11 academic year. Institution will require SA No.1 to repay $700 to a charity of his choice and he will be withheld from first 10 percent of institution’s 2010-11 men’s volleyball season. Institution will require SA No. 2 to repay $400 to a charity of his choice and he will be withheld from first 10 percent of institution’s 2010-11 men’s volleyball season. Institution will require SA Nos. 3 and 4 to be withheld from one contest of institution’s 2010-11 men’s volleyball season.

Eligibility Action: STAFF: Eligibility reinstated for numerous SAs and based on institutional action for SAs Nos. 1-4. Please note, institution’s action for SA No. 3 and 4 exceeded what the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff would have imposed.

Rationale: STAFF: Based on case precedent and totality of circumstances, including, but not limited to, the unique and extraordinary circumstances surrounding actions of institution’s coach for numerous SAs and SAs Nos. 1-4, staff accepted institution’s proposed actions. Specifically, staff determined that SA Nos. 1-4’s violations occurred due to coach’s actions, coach’s impermissible actions resulted in significant detriment to his team and institution removed coach from his position in part due to his conduct. Further, related to the impermissible meals and housing, staff has provided relief from withholding or repayment where meals and lodging could have been properly provided to SAs in a different manner through institution’s compliance office or athletics department.

The reinstatement decision relied on an analysis of the following NCAA bylaws:

Bylaw 15.3.4.3 (Reduction or Cancellation Not Permitted)

Institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability may not be reduced or canceled during the period of its award: (Adopted: 1/16/93, Revised: 1/11/94, 12/11/07)
(a) On the basis of a student-athlete’s athletics ability, performance or contribution to a team’s success;
(b) Because of an injury, illness, or physical or mental medical condition (except as permitted pursuant to Bylaw 15.3.4.2); or  (Revised:  1/14/08)
(c) For any other athletics reason.

Bylaw 16.11.2.1 (General Rule)

The student-athlete shall not receive any extra benefit. The term “extra benefit” refers to any special arrangement by an institutional employee or representative of the institution’s athletics interests to provide the student-athlete or his or her relatives or friends with a benefit not expressly authorized by NCAA legislation. [R]

Bylaw 16.11.1.5 (Occasional Meals)

A student-athlete or the entire team in a sport may receive an occasional meal in the locale of the institution on infrequent and special occasions from an institutional staff member.  An institutional staff member may provide reasonable local transportation to student-athletes to attend such meals. A student-athlete or the entire team in a sport may receive an occasional meal from a representative of athletics interests on infrequent and special occasions under the following conditions: [R] (Revised: 1/10/92, 4/25/02 effective 8/1/02, 4/29/10)
(a) The meal may only be provided in an individual’s home, on campus or at a facility that is regularly used for home competition and may be catered; and (Revised: 4/25/02 effective 8/1/02, 4/29/10)
(b) A representative of the institution’s athletics interests may provide reasonable local transportation to student-athletes to attend the meal function only if the meal function is at the home of that representative. (Revised: 4/25/02 effective 8/1/02)

Bylaw 15.3.2.4 (Hearing Opportunity)

The institution’s regular financial aid authority shall notify the student-athlete in writing of the opportunity for a hearing when institutional financial aid based in any degree on athletics ability is to be reduced or canceled during the period of the award, or is reduced or not renewed for the following academic year.  The institution shall have established reasonable procedures for promptly hearing such a request and shall not delegate the responsibility for conducting the hearing to the university’s athletics department or its faculty athletics committee.  The written notification of the opportunity for a hearing shall include a copy of the institution’s established policies and procedures for conducting the required hearing, including the deadline by which a student-athlete must request such a hearing.  (Revised: 1/9/06 effective 8/1/06, 4/3/07, 4/23/08)

Bylaw 15.3.3.1 (One-Year Period)

If a student’s athletics ability is considered in any degree in awarding financial aid, such aid shall neither be awarded for a period in excess of one academic year nor for a period less than one academic year (see Bylaw 15.01.5).  (Revised:  4/27/06 effective 8/1/06)

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About Michael L. Buckner, Esquire

An attorney who provides clients with internal investigation, civil litigation, estate planning and compliance services.

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