Extra books and excessive football practices helped get Texas State University at San Marcos in a heap of NCAA trouble Thursday. But the university's big problem was that sports officials looked the other way when the problems were first identified.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Committee on Infractions placed Texas State on three years' probation for two sets of violations. The first involved what Gene Marsh, the head of the infractions panel, called "widespread abuse" in the awarding of improper financial aid benefits, in the form of excessive book stipends.
From 1997-98, when the university's bookstore changed its method for making sure scholarship athletes received their textbooks, to 2000-1, 135 athletes charged the athletics department (which like most major sports programs pays for the textbooks of scholarship athletes) for a total of $73,000 in books that they did not need for their courses. In many cases, they bought books for friends, teammates or family members.
Not only did the athletics department not do a good job tracking whether athletes were receiving only the books they were entitled to, the NCAA infractions panel said, but an associate athletics director who was warned about possible problems several years ago failed to investigate the situation. Because of that, the NCAA concluded that Texas State had lacked "institutional control" over the sports program, one of the more serious charges the association can level.
The other major situation that unfolded at Texas State involved the football program. During the spring and summer of 2003, the off-season for football, coaches held "supposedly voluntary" practices and conditioning sessions that were in fact quite mandatory, the infractions panel concluded. Athletes who missed workouts were punished, and a coach even called the parents of one player to warn that if he missed more sessions, his playing time in the fall would be reduced.
The coaches imposed demands on players that exceeded NCAA limits on the number of hours athletes can participate in their sports in the off-season, leading to significant complaints from players that they did not have enough time to study, said Marsh, a professor of law at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
The university uncovered the football violations while it was investigating the book overcharges, and it took "significant and decisive action," Marsh said, to respond to both situations and punish those involved. Texas State dismissed the entire football coaching staff and the athletics director at the time, stripped a total of about seven scholarships from an array of teams in 2003-4 and about four more in 2004-5, and made those athletes who were still at the university either repay the amounts they had wrongly received (a total of about $17,500) or contribute money to charity (another $14,000).
The "thoughtful approach" of President Denise M. Trauth was "a credit to the institution" and "kept the NCAA from imposing more severe penalties," Marsh said.
President Trauth said in a statement Thursday that the association's three-year probation was "fair" and that the university would not appeal.