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Piling Up Penalties

August 14, 2009

For the second time in just over a year, Southeast Missouri State University is in trouble with the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Thursday, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions announced that it had found the institution guilty of a number of major rules violations in its men’s and women’s basketball programs. The announcement of the recent infractions comes a mere 14 months after these two same Southeast Missouri squads were found to have committed a laundry list of recruiting violations. Among other penalties, the NCAA has extended the two-year probation the institution was already serving by an additional three years, until 2013.

The previous infractions not only brought embarrassment to the institution, but also factored into the firing of Don Kaverman, former athletics director, the dismissal of Scott Edgar, former men’s basketball coach, and the resignation of B.J. Smith, former women’s basketball coach. Though the newly announced violations were brought before the NCAA separately, Southeast Missouri officials consider them a “continuation” of infractions from the previous incident, as they happened during the same time period and involved some of the same coaches.

The committee’s report noted that a female basketball player had a portion of her tuition subsidized by an athletics department booster. The student in question was in her fifth year of college and had no remaining eligibility to play basketball. As she was no longer receiving a full athletics scholarship, she received only a partial scholarship that the athletics department gives those who can no longer play but wish to graduate. To help make up for the gap between what she received in aid and what she had to pay in tuition and fees, a booster paid the institution’s bursar office more than $7,000 for the athlete.

A senior administrator at Southeast Missouri told the booster directly not to make these payments, as they violated NCAA rules. The booster, however, told the administrator that “she didn’t care if her actions violated NCAA rules.”

“The hardest thing to do is control enthusiastic boosters,” said John Shafer, athletics director at Southeast Missouri, who took over the troubled program six months ago, acknowledging that his predecessors might not have been able to do much to stop the payment.

“They’re needed tremendously, but they’re out of control at times. The issue here wasn’t so much that we didn’t report the violation, it’s that we didn’t report it soon enough. You could say that maybe we couldn’t have stopped it. But we could have reported it and made whoever was supposed to be aware early on, and then that might have been a mitigating factor for us.”

As a result of this violation, the institution must “disassociate” itself from this particular booster for a three-year period.

On the men’s squad, the report notes that Edgar and his coaching staff attended "voluntary" summer and off-season workouts with athletes, even going as far as checking their attendance, a clear violation of NCAA rules. Edgar and his staff also watched prospects play in informal pick-up games on campus with current players during their official paid visits.

“The presence of coaches at ‘voluntary’ workouts, whether it is before, after or during the sessions (however brief), obviates the volunteer nature of such workouts,” the report reads. “If a student-athlete knows that a coach is going to be present, and therefore, is, in effect, ‘keeping tabs’ on who attends, then the concept of these workouts being ‘voluntary’ is destroyed.”

In another violation, Edgar also asked one of his assistant coaches to pay a top player on his squad $239 to cover bookstore fees that were keeping him from enrolling in classes. The assistant coach gave three $100 bills to the athlete for this purpose, not telling him that the money was given to him by Edgar. The student ultimately did not pay back the money.

More troubling, however, the report notes that the unidentified assistant coach “knew that payment of fees in this manner was a violation of NCAA rules, but ... did so because he feared his job would be in jeopardy if he violated the former head coach’s orders.”

“It bothers me tremendously that we sometimes stretch, bend or break the rules and regulations,” Shafer said of the many assistants and other officials who, for fear of losing their jobs, do not report violations. “I’ve always tried to eliminate that intimidation through the years and make it very clear to the assistants and head coaches that my wrath is much worse than anyone else’s. But, that kind of intimidation comes from insecure people who just don’t want to own up to their mistakes.”

The final violation outlined in the report also deals with impermissible benefits given to male basketball players; however, the benefit in this circumstance was not monetary in nature. Edgar ordered an assistant coach, against his will, to drive a player 171 miles to Memphis so that the player could catch a flight home to witness the birth of his child.

In this and the previous violation, the committee found Edgar to have “provided false and misleading information” to the NCAA; Edgar told the committee he was not aware that the assistant coaches had taken the actions he supposedly ordered them to take.

Paul Dee, chair of the Committee on Infractions and lecturer of law and education at the University of Miami, said the institution should have found a more responsible way to deal with these situations without the input of the coaches. For example, he said officials should have directed these athletes to the NCAA’s Special Assistance Fund, established in 1991 for students to use in the event of a “personal or family emergency.”

The men’s basketball team must vacate all wins in which these athletes participated during the 2006-7 and 2007-8 seasons. Its number of scholarships will be reduced from 13 to 12. Also, its coaching staff will have its ability to observe workouts restricted during the off-season.

Shafer said he had not determined whether Southeast Missouri would appeal the NCAA’s ruling or not. The institution has 15 days to make an appeal. He did, however, express remorse about the violations and pledged to improve the department under his watch.

“What happened today and what happened last year, even though it's embarrassing, sends up a flag for the staff here,” Shafer said. “I hate learning this way, and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody. But, it makes a point. It ticks a nerve. There’s nothing more important that we can do than look after the welfare of our student-athletes and work on total compliance.”

 

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