Following a three-month investigation, the University Department of Physical Education and Athletics has found that an athlete on the 2004 varsity softball team was ineligible to compete. The athletic department immediately self-reported the violation to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and received a Level I secondary infraction from the governing body, requiring the team to forfeit all games in which the athlete played and vacate its postseason appearance. No other penalties, including those that would affect future games or playoff appearances, were imposed by the NCAA.
The penalty that the NCAA handed down to the University was the forfeiture of 25 of 30 regular season games in which the athlete played as well as the vacation of the team's five postseason contests. The athletic department's website has removed the postseason appearance from the home page and annotated the team's 2004 statistics. Though the team's games were forfeited, all results remain recorded, as do individual school and NCAA records.
According to University administrators, the athletewho was unavailable for comment and not identified due to privacy regulationswas registered in the fall of 2003, but was prevented from registering for classes in the winter and the spring of 2004 due to a category-one restriction. Students under category-one restrictions cannot register until they have fulfilled their obligations, including clearing unpaid bursar bills.
Under NCAA Division III bylaw 14.01.2, which governs academic status, student-athletes must be enrolled as full-time students and in good academic standing to participate in intercollegiate competition and practice on an intercollegiate team. The member schools are held responsible for certifying students as eligible for athletics before they participate. While there are numerous details involved in the eligibility requirements, the NCAA has specific ways of dealing with student registration, according to Kent Barrett of the NCAA press office.
"To be eligible to represent an institution, under NCAA rules, you must be a full-time student. Period," Barrett said.
Computer "glitch" caused failure, now fixed and reformed
Administrators attributed their failure to detect the problem to a "system glitch" that occurred in the process of upgrading student services systems. Since 2001, the University has been updating all programs concerning student records to increase the efficiency of the system, according to Steve Klass, dean of students in the University. That transition resulted in inaccurate information that erroneously showed the athlete to be registered. Once the athletic department gained access to the new and properly functioning system, it discovered the eligibility violation, investigated it, and self-reported it to the NCAA.
"There was, evidently, a very brief transitional window of time during which a couple of system components, one in the registrar's office and one in physical education, were not talking to each other. In the course of the upgrade, this particular piece must have pulled apart momentarily, and no one recognized it," Klass said. "The systemic problem was momentary, and was fixed during the ongoing transition. In integrating this new system, typically there are going to be situations like this."
The problem appears to have occurred with the eligibility check-ups, which are done by the athletic department. Eligibility is checked three to four times each quarter.
"The student IDs of all active athletes were loaded into a report program and information was received about students who had medical or financial restrictions and the names of students who were not registered in full-time status," Weingartner said. "During the 2003-2004 academic year and the fall quarter of 2004, the restriction information was accurate in the reports but registration status was inaccurate."
Though a student cannot be officially registered for classes if restricted, registration is required to establish a student's enrollment in the eyes of the NCAA. The athletic department did not ameliorate the contradiction between the two reports until the January 2005 switch to the "Gargoyle" system.
"Under the old system, we had a program that generated a report for the athletic department on demand," said Thomas Black, University registrar. "It was made up of two different systems, one that reported GPA, and one that reported registration status. We didn't vet those reports. We produce them, but it requires the person viewing the data to interpret it, and make a judgment based on that."
An updated system for communication on the athletes' academic standing has been created as part of the general student services overhaul and is operating.
As per the athletic department's request, the registrar's office now automatically generates one single report with GPA and registration data on a daily basis and sends it to a shared network, Black said.
The cooperative effort, which also contains a backup procedure that gives a separate, supplemental report, has so far cleared all current student-athletes.
"As part of our self-report to the NCAA we outlined specific remedial actions in our systems that will prevent this from happening again," Weingartner said. "We have since reviewed the eligibility status for all 450 student-athletes and this was the only eligibility issue that emerged. We have worked hard with all the appropriate offices on campus, and I now believe we monitor these issues better than anyone in the country."
Restricted student options
Students unable to resolve restrictions before the beginning of the new quarter are encouraged to attend classes, according to Susan Art, dean of students in the College. Instructors keep records for these students on their own grades sheets, and report to the registrar's office once the student has been cleared.
"We try to support students [with restrictions]," Art said. "Sometimes these students will be in frequent contact with us, and if they attend classes, we can reregister them [for those classes] the next quarter."
University policy forces students to clear their restrictions or be unofficially withdrawn for fall quarter. For the beginning of -both the winter and spring quarters, as many as 10 students are typically unable to register for classes, and as many as three or four are still prevented from doing so into the next quarter and must go through this process.
"Our underlying philosophy is that we want to be supportive of students who are restricted, and help get those restrictions lifted. We want to help them get credits for the coursework they're doing. Once they begin the academic year, we try to keep them registered," Art said.
Art said that complications concerning registration status for intercollegiate athletes are not the responsibility of the dean of students office.
"We won't necessarily even know who the varsity athletes are. We know the general regulations, and can help them do some general planning, but the real record-keeping goes on in the athletic department," she said.
Athletic department responsibility
Weingartner meets with each team annually in order to inform student-athletes of their eligibility requirements and other codes of conduct. The department's investigation submitted to the NCAA found the student culpable for not being forthcoming, and the department guilty for not catching the violation.
Teammates of the ineligible student said they had no indication that there was a registration or eligibility problem until notified by athletic department administrators the day before the team's April 30, 2005 finale against Wash U. The student continued to live in housing through the end of spring quarter 2004 and attended classes through winter quarter 2005.
NCAA concludes violation to be secondary
Upon discovering that the student was not registered, the athletic department immediately began an internal investigation involving the student, the offices of the registrar, the dean of students in the College, and the Office of Undergraduate Housing.
The investigation was completed in April and submitted to the NCAA. The infraction committee found a Level I secondary violationas opposed to a major infractionhad been committed. According to NCAA Bylaw 19.02.2.1, the violation provided "only a limited recruiting or competitive advantage and that is isolated or inadvertent in nature."
The sanctions rendered by the NCAA depend on a number of factors, according to Barrett, including existing institutions in place and cooperation.
"As NCAA members, schools are expected to report infractions," Barrett said. "When schools are cooperative, when they self-report, it may affect the committee's determination of sanctions."
Barrett himself was able to offer few details on this specific process, due to NCAA policy on secondary infractions.
"If the investigation yields no findings, or if the infraction is secondary, the NCAA will never make that information public," Barrett said.
With this violation being classified as secondary, the University continues to have no listed major infractions in its history, according to Jennifer Kearns of the NCAA press office.