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NCAA Division II Summer 2014 Enforcement Review: Alaska Anchorage Case [Higher-Ed/College Athletics Best Practices Alert (Third Quarter 2014)]

Author: Justin P. Sievert, Esquire (Senior Counsel)

On May 2, 2014, the NCAA Division II Committee on Infractions (COI) released its report in the case involving the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The COI found the institution’s former head women’s basketball coach promised two women’s basketball student-athletes full scholarships during the recruiting process, but when unable to deliver the full amount, directed a former volunteer women’s basketball coach to deposit money into the student-athletes’ accounts to supplement the athletics aid provided. Specifically, prior to arriving on campus, the families of the two women’s basketball players noticed the amount listed on their scholarship papers did not amount to a full scholarship, as the former head coach had promised during the recruiting process. The head coach assured the families that the student-athletes would receive full scholarships once enrolled. In order to cover the full scholarship amount, the former head coach provided his own money to the volunteer coach and directed her to deposit a total of $7,320 into two women’s basketball student-athletes’ accounts. The COI further found the former head coach: did not promote an atmosphere for compliance when he directed the volunteer coach to participate in the violations; and violated NCAA rules governing ethical conduct when he knowingly violated legislation.

Additionally, further violations occurred when a representative of the institution’s athletics interests provided extra benefits when he accompanied the women’s basketball team to away contests. The representative arranged, and paid for, local transportation, a pregame meal and entertainment.

The penalties, including those self-imposed by the institution, were:

  • Public reprimand and censure
  • Two years of probation from May 2, 2014, through May 1, 2016
  • A $5,000 fine
  • A two-year show-cause order for the former head coach
  • A suspension from the first three conference games for the former head coach at his current employing school
  • A vacation of results for the women’s basketball program from the 2011-12 regular season and conference tournaments in which a student-athlete participated while ineligible
  • A reduction of 0.74 scholarships from the allowable maximum of 10.0 scholarships during the 2014-15 academic year.

In light of this enforcement case, Buckner recommends NCAA Division II institutions take into account the following considerations:

  • Provide information to prospective student-athletes how the direct deposit process works prior to enrollment at the institution. This education will help parents/guardians and student-athletes better understand the scholarship distribution process and will alleviate the potential for fraudulent payments into personal student-athlete bank accounts.
  • Provide regularly scheduled, mandatory rules-education training to athletics department staff members, coaches, student-athletes and other institutional departments that interface with athletics.
  • Create rules-education materials (e.g., information emails, newsletters, etc.) designed specifically towards issues relating to representatives of athletics interests.
  • Create or update the institution’s athletics compliance manual, athletics compliance website and other athletics compliance documents that are provided to athletics department staff members, coaches, student-athletes and institutional staff members whose responsibilities interface with athletics. Additionally, the athletics compliance manual and the NCAA Division II Manual should be distributed in hard copy (or available via electronic tablet or reader, i.e., iPad, Kindle) to athletics department staff members, coaches and institutional staff members whose responsibilities interface with athletics.
  • Conduct a regular internal review of athletics compliance policies and procedures and rules-education programming to ensure monitoring systems are operating effectively, and that institutional staff members, coaches and student-athletes have a proper understanding of NCAA legislation.
  • Retain an experienced firm to conduct an athletics compliance audit regularly (at least once every four years).

Contact Justin P. Sievert (954-941-1844; jsievert@bucknersportslaw.com) for additional information on NCAA compliance and enforcement best practices.