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O No, Canada

January 31, 2012

Cheating in college sports is nothing new.

Boosters at Ohio State University provided no-show jobs, widespread improper payments have been alleged at the University of Miami, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is among the sports programs found to have engaged in academic fraud.

Of course, those are all in the big-time domain of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I.

In the humbler realms of Division III, where athletic scholarships are a no-no and rules violations rarer, Neumann University is often portrayed as an example of what’s right with college sports.

Sister Linda never misses a baseball game and the Pennsylvania private institution works to incorporate its Roman Catholic values into competition.

They’re not bad, either. Neumann won the 2009 national championship in men’s ice hockey, and the mighty Knights are ranked 13th this season.

But for years, Neumann has had a secret weapon: well-compensated Canadians.

Nineteen of 27 players on this year’s roster are from Canada.  On the women’s ice hockey team, 12 of 18 athletes hail from the provinces.

Canadians are not against the rules. But Neumann gave all its Canadian students a special grant from 2005 to 2010, ostensibly to boost international enrollment.

While Susan from Saskatoon and Walter from Winnipeg would have been eligible for the $11,000 grant regardless of their hockey skills, it turns out few Canadians turned up on Neumann’s Aston, Pa., campus without their ice skates.

Essentially saying the grants were athletics scholarships masquerading as benign financial aid tools, the NCAA's Division III infractions committee this month gave Neumann two years of probation for major violations and a $10,000 fine. Neumann discontinued the grant after the fall of 2010, a university spokesman said, making its teams eligible for postseason play this year. Another condition of the NCAA’s ruling would have held the university’s hockey teams out of postseason play if the grants were still given.

The university admitted to the violations, and the NCAA committee said in a statement that “the violations were not intentional and were the natural result of the ice hockey programs concentrating their recruiting efforts in Canada to a far more significant degree than Neumann’s admissions office.”

In a statement, the college said the grant benefited a “slightly higher proportion of student-athletes than students in the entire university population.”

“Slightly higher” seems an understatement. For three of the last four academic years the award was given, exactly zero non-athletes received the Canadian International Student Initiative Grant. The other year, one Canadian non-athlete qualified.

 

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