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NCAA Division III Summer 2014 Enforcement Review: Denison University and University of Wisconsin, Superior Cases [Higher-Ed/College Athletics Best Practices Alert (Third Quarter 2014)]

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

During June 2013, the NCAA Division III Committee on Infractions (COI) released public reports in the cases involving Denison University and the University of Wisconsin, Superior. The COI found each institution considered athletics participation or leadership as criteria in determining financial aid.

In the Denison case, the institution allowed a prospective student to submit subjective information to be included in the admissions process in lieu of a standardized test score. The information provided by prospective students ranged from extracurricular activities to interest level in the university and ultimately produced a rating for the prospective student. Because many prospective students included athletics participation as a part of their extracurricular activities, the university considered athletics components when determining financial aid packages for student-athletes who used the alternative application process.

In the Wisconsin, Superior, case, the institution’s Foundation scholarship application allowed applicants to describe why they deserved the scholarship and to detail their leadership qualities and scholastic achievement. This resulted in numerous prospective students listing their athletics involvement as examples of leadership and achievement, and the Foundation utilizing this information to award scholarship allotments.

At issue in both cases were the institution’s failures to monitor the composition of financial aid packages and the failure of the institution to properly educate admissions and financial aid personnel regarding NCAA legislation. As a result, each institution received similar penalties, which included:

  • Public reprimand and censure
  • Two years of probation
  • Request for a Level Two review to be conducted by the NCAA Committee on Financial Aid during each probationary year.  [Note: During a Level Two review, the committee looks closely at a school’s policies and procedures for awarding aid, as well as the impact of those factors on aid received by student-athletes.] 

In addition, the COI vacated Denison University’s NCAA championship participation in men’s lacrosse, women’s basketball and softball.

In light of these enforcement cases, Buckner recommends NCAA Division III institutions take into account the following considerations:

  • Hire or designate at least one full-time experienced athletics administrator to oversee athletics compliance. This responsibility should be, at a minimum, the administrator’s primary job responsibility. The institution should also create an athletics compliance committee to assist the administrator with athletics compliance oversight. The athletics compliance committee’s composition could include the director of athletics, the faculty athletics representative, the institution’s legal counsel and select senior institutional administrators.
  • Provide for professional development opportunities relating to athletics compliance for athletics compliance staff members and other institutional staff members whose responsibilities interface with athletics (i.e., admissions and financial aid).
  • Provide a direct line of communication between the athletics director and faculty athletics representative with the institution’s president or chancellor.
  • Provide regularly scheduled, mandatory rules-education training to athletics department staff members, coaches, student-athletes and other institutional departments that interface with athletics (i.e., admissions and financial aid).
  • 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 III 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 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). While Buckner recommends a full compliance review, at a minimum, this audit should be a component review of the institution’s compliance with NCAA Division III Bylaw 15 legislation.

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