Paying a Price for Moving Up in Athletics

April 22, 2005

Colleges often see the move to Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association as a road paved with riches, in the form of heightened visibility, increased enrollments and more revenues. But the road can often be littered with speed bumps and potholes, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook hit more than a few in its quest for big-time glory.

The NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions placed Stony Brook's sports program on three years' probation Thursday after finding that the university let 53 athletes in 14 sports compete who should have been ineligible. The infractions panel found that Stony Brook sports officials were "overwhelmed" by, and "ill-equipped" to handle, the paperwork and layers of rules in the two years after the university moved to Division I from Division III in 1999. 

About 30 of the athletes would have been eligible had athletics department officials not botched the paperwork, like failing to fill out drug testing forms or getting prior approval for athletes to take summer school courses. The rest of the athletes, though, were allowed to compete even though they had failed to meet NCAA rules governing academic eligibility, financial aid, and the transfer of athletes from other colleges. 

Twenty of the athletes, for example, had failed to declare a major course of study by the start of their third year in college, and 18 had failed to take enough credit hours to be eligible to compete.

The infractions panel concluded that the university lacked "institutional control" over the sports program, a catch-all finding that is among the most serious charges the NCAA can levy. 

But the head of the committee, Gene A. Marsh, a law professor at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, applauded Stony Brook officials for working quickly to correct the problems once they were identified. "This is an example of school that made this move, detected they had a problem, reacted to it in a meaningful way, and proposed penalties that were meaningful," he said. 

The NCAA chose not to add any penalties to those the university imposed on itself. Stony Brook agreed to cut a total of 12.5 scholarships across 10 sports in the 2005-6 and 2006-7 academic years, among other actions.

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