Compliance issues lead to 137 NCAA violations

John Decker, Director of Athletics
Courtesy photo l University Communications

The NCAA has handed down several punishments to SVSU Athletics for 137 violations committed from 2013 to 2018.

The punishments include four years of probation and the inability to host any championship competition this spring. SVSU, however, was able to avoid more serious punishments, such as loss of scholarships or postseason ineligibility.

The NCAA on Thursday, Feb. 7, issued a press release regarding the violations. The press release stated SVSU self-reported violations in September 2017 regarding “improper certification of student-athletes.”

SVSU and the NCAA worked together to identity “record-keeping violations involving multiple sports and spanning several years,” the press release stated. The report released on Feb. 7 stated the self-reported violations involved the “improper eligibility certification of numerous student-athletes over a five-year period” at SVSU.

Between 2013 and 2018, SVSU improperly certified 130 student-athletes in 15 sports, the report stated, resulting in 137 violations of amateurism and eligibility certification as well as “seasons of competition” legislation.

All 130 student-athletes competed and received “actual and necessary expenses while ineligible or not certified,” the report stated. It also stated SVSU failed to “withhold 80 student-athletes from competition during subsequent academic years before their eligibility was reinstated.”

The report cited several contributing factors to the violations, including frequent turnover and communication breakdowns. The NCAA report also stated, “Weaknesses in SVSU’s athletics compliance program caused a breakdown in SVSU’s eligibility certification process over a multiyear period resulting in numerous student-athletes being erroneously certified.”

“Because of inadequate staffing,” the report stated, “the compliance administrator simply lacked the time to properly certify student-athletes.”

The report stated that, because of the “extensive eligibility certification failure,” SVSU and the enforcement staff agreed SVSU “lacked control over its athletics program.”

SVSU Athletics was led by Mike Watson, who served as athletic director from 2007 until the end of 2017, when he announced his retirement. SVSU appointed John Decker, who had served as SVSU’s general counsel, to replace Watson.

In an SVSU press release, Decker stated SVSU is “committed to full compliance with NCAA regulations.”

“Despite the fact that the NCAA determined the violations were not intentional, we take full responsibility for our omissions in complying with NCAA regulations,” he said. “We are completely confident in the full eligibility of all current Cardinal student-athletes, and we have already taken steps to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place so this does not happen again at SVSU.”

The NCAA first sent SVSU a notice of inquiry on Sept. 20, 2017, the report stated. SVSU continued investigations into certification errors until December 2018, according to the report.

The infractions constitute “major violations in the areas of amateurism, eligibility extra benefits and institutional control legislation,” the report stated.

The report found that:

• From the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years, 69 student-athletes across multiple sports practiced and competed prior to receiving certification of their amateur status.
• From the 2014-15 through 2016-17 academic years, 13 student-athletes across multiple sports were certified as early academic qualifiers; however, the institution failed to submit a final high school transcript to the NCAA Eligibility Center by Nov. 15 following the student-athlete’s initial full-time enrollment.
• From the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years, 14 four-year college transfer student-athletes from multiple sports were allowed to compete in their first year of enrollment at the institution without fulfilling the residence requirement of one full academic year at the institution or meeting an exception to this requirement.
• In the 2016-17 academic year, four two-year college transfer student-athletes from multiple sports were allowed to compete, practice and receive athletics aid in their first year of enrollment at the institution without meeting the eligibility requirements of a graduate from a two-year college or an exception to this requirement.
• From the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years, 16 two-year college transfer student-athletes who were partial qualifiers or non-qualifiers from multiple sports were allowed to practice, compete and receive athletics aid without meeting eligibility requirements.
• From the 2013-14 through 2016-17 academic years, 18 student-athletes from multiple sports, who enrolled at the institution as entering freshmen, were allowed to compete, practice and receive athletics aid in their first year of enrollment at the institution without meeting the academic requirements to be deemed a qualifier by the Eligibility Center.
• In the 2016-17 academic year, two transfer student-athletes in the sports of football and men’s soccer were allowed to practice, compete and receive athletics aid without meeting the requirement of having earned nine semester hours of transferable degree credit in order to certify their eligibility.
• In the 2017-18 academic year, one football student-athlete was allowed to compete beyond the first 10 semesters in which he was enrolled at the institution.

According to the NCAA report, SVSU’s punishment includes:

• Four years of probation from Feb. 7, 2019, through Feb. 6, 2023
• A $5,000 fine
• Ineligibility to host any NCAA championship competitions in any sport during the spring semester of the 2018-19 academic year

No SVSU scholarships will be reduced, and all teams will remain eligible for post-season competition, according to the press release.

While the NCAA is “cognizant of the financial challenges faced by many Division II member institutions,” according to its report, it believes that SVSU’s case “illustrates the need for all Division II institutions to ensure that they devote the necessary funds and staffing to establish an effective and reliable compliance program that, at a minimum, can fulfill basic and fundamental responsibilities of membership, including eligibility certification, as exemplified in this case.”

Reporting by Kailtyn Farley, Editor-in-Chief

Kaitlyn Farley

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