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Give Back That Scholarship

December 16, 2010

Arizona State University’s former baseball coach asked four of his players to give back all or a portion of their athletics scholarships so the team could enroll a junior college standout it had been recruiting. For this and numerous other infractions, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned the Sun Devils from the college playoffs this coming season and asked them to vacate numerous wins, including the team’s 2007 Pacific-10 Conference title and trip to the College World Series.

Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions detailed the series of violations perpetrated over the course of more than five years by Arizona State’s baseball coaching staff in a public report. Pat Murphy, the 15-season coach under whose watch these violations occurred, was forced to resign by the university last year as a result of this NCAA investigation. The NCAA action makes Arizona State the most-penalized institution in NCAA history.

For the 2006-7 academic year, Arizona State’s baseball team awarded 11.17 of its permitted 11.70 academic scholarship equivalencies to players (in many NCAA sports, teams can divide up their allocation of scholarships into partial grants). As a result, 0.53 scholarship equivalencies remained. The coaching staff, however, wanted to bring in three midyear transfer students to play for the team, and needed a total of 1.06 scholarship equivalencies in the spring semester to give these transfer students the scholarships they were promised.

To fill the gap, Murphy asked six or seven players on his team to participate in a program he dubbed “Devil-to-Devil,” and give part or all of their scholarship money back to the team to bring on the three midyear recruits. Four players gave back scholarship money to reach the 1.06 scholarship equivalencies needed.

This was brought to the institution’s and the NCAA’s attention when the parent of a player complained about the process to the university’s athletics director. The NCAA agreed that this practice was problematic and violated rules.

“Generally, NCAA rules do not allow institutions to terminate their scholarships in the middle of an academic year, and they do not allow a coach to request that a student-athlete return a portion of their scholarship during the academic year,” reads an NCAA news release.

Further, one of the three midyear recruits added to the roster through the “Devil-to-Devil” program was recruited improperly. Murphy asked one of the team’s managers to help recruit a player that the manager had coached on a junior college squad. Ultimately, the manager persuaded the recruit to withdraw his commitment to an unnamed Southeastern Conference team and commit to Arizona State.

Murphy also made more than 500 “impermissible recruiting calls,” violating both the NCAA’s limit of one call per week for a recruit and a restriction on calling certain recruits before their junior year of high school. Also, in 2006 and 2007, Murphy’s nonprofit organization paid 20 of his players $5,889.34 for work they did not perform.

Murphy is not coaching elsewhere at present. He did, however, receive a one-year show-cause penalty from the NCAA, meaning that any institution that hires him in the coming year must defend to the NCAA why it is hiring him and how it will monitor his behavior to prevent rules violations.

In addition to the one-year postseason ban and the vacation of its victories, Arizona State was hit with three years' probation, scholarship reductions and recruiting limitations. Though Arizona State agreed in a statement released Wednesday that “it could have monitored — and now does monitor — the [baseball] program more closely,” it is displeased with some of the NCAA’s findings and punishments.

“ASU intends to appeal the NCAA report because the university disagrees with some of the findings of fact and the characterization of some infractions as major rather than secondary,” reads the statement. “The university also intends to appeal the additional sanction of banning post-season baseball play in 2011, which punishes many student athletes and coaches who were not involved in the rules violations.”

Arizona State now has the distinction of being the NCAA member institution with the most major infractions ever: nine. Previously, it was tied with Southern Methodist University, at eight.

 

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