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Case Exposes Flaws in Community College Pipeline for Athletes

February 21, 2008

The flow of athletes from community colleges to four-year institutions is one of the hazier aspects of intercollegiate athletics. As the National Collegiate Athletic Association's academic eligibility rules for freshmen have ebbed and flowed over the years, two-year colleges have often been a refuge for players who could not qualify for NCAA competition out of high school -- and some four-year colleges have developed pipelines, sometimes aboveboard and sometimes quietly, for athletes from two-year institutions to their own.

One particular relationship drew the attention and concern of the NCAA's Division II Committee on Infractions Wednesday. The panel placed the University of Central Oklahoma on three years' probation and barred its football team from appearing on television (or virtually any form of video transmission, a sign that the NCAA is moving into the digital age) for the next two seasons, citing a series of rules broken by its former football coach in recruiting players from the two-year college where he formerly worked.

The problem wasn't that the former coach, Chuck Langston, recruited community college players from Texas' Trinity Valley Community College; NCAA colleges are allowed to recruit two-year college players. The problem was that Langston, who recruited 40-odd community college players during his five years at Central Oklahoma, brought at least a half dozen of them to the area around the campus "without visible means of support and before they were qualified for admission and athletics competition or aid," the Division II Committee on Infractions said in its news release about the case. Many of the athletes, the NCAA panel noted in its full report on the case, "had academic deficiencies that had to be cured before they could be admitted into the institution and be eligible for athletics participation."

"Once they were in the vicinity of the campus, but before they were enrolled full-time at the university, the young men were provided impermissible benefits including medical treatments, the use of institutional facilities, as well as free housing, meals and transportation. The benefits were provided by members of the athletics staff, including coaches and enrolled student-athletes. The university paid the costs of surgery for one prospective student-athlete prior to his enrollment in the total amount of $4,772, and on one occasion an assistant coach supplied one of the young men with a $200 cash payment."

Those breaches were just the start of it. Langston, whom Central Oklahoma let go after the 2007 season after the university acknowledged the truth behind some of the allegations against him, encouraged players to mislead investigators about some of the benefits they received, the NCAA panel said. The athletics director failed to aggressively investigate charges against the coach with which he was confronted, one of several failures that led the NCAA to find that the university lacked "institutional control" over the sports program.

The penalties, some of which the university imposed on itself, were unusually severe. Cited for unethical conduct, Langston and any institution that seeks to hire him within the next two years will be required to appear before the Division II infractions panel and explain why it should not face penalties for doing so. Central Oklahoma will lose two scholarships this year and four each in each of the next two years.

And the NCAA panel also barred the football team from appearing in "any telecast" during the next two seasons. "This ineligibility to appear on television shall include live broadcasts, delayed broadcasts, cable, Web and broadband broadcasts and game footage that exceeds a total of five minutes on coaches' shows at the institution," the NCAA said in its report.

The NCAA's Division I infractions committee used to bar teams that committed serious violations from television all the time, but that practice has fallen out of vogue (perhaps because the financial impact of such decisions have grown). Bruce Kirsch, chairman of the Division II panel and a vice president at Franklin Pierce University, was asked why the committee had opted to restrict Central Oklahoma's appearances on television or the Internet rather than barring it from postseason competition, as is somewhat more common practice. He said the panel had concluded that there was a "greater possibility" that a ban on public appearances would have an impact on the program, and many colleges show off their teams than a ban on playoff participation, which "may not take effect" given the team's likely performance.

Like an increasing number of institutions, Central Oklahoma broadcasts live video of its football games and other athletic events, and would be barred from doing so for football under the NCAA policy.

University officials could not be reached for comment on whether they planned to appeal the NCAA's ruling.

 

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